Cultureguru's Weblog

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


The City That Never Sleeps and Québec’s Metropolis

New York is one of the world’s great cities. Montreal is often considered Canada’s best. On our recent trip, we visited both. This was our itinerary:

  • Saturday: Fly Hamilton to Montreal late afternoon; stay in airport hotel.
  • Sunday: Fly Montreal to New York. Visit Museum of Modern Art.
  • Monday: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise. 9/11 Memorial Museum. B&H.
  • Tuesday: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. School of Rock on Broadway.
  • Wednesday: Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall tour. Grand Central Station.
  • Thursday: New York Library. Fly to Montreal late afternoon.
  • Friday: Musée des beaux arts. Old Montreal and Old Port area.
  • Saturday: Mile End Local Montreal food walking tour. Mount Royal.
  • Sunday: McCord Museum. Fly back to Hamilton late afternoon.
Radio City Music Hall

Just now noticing the Canadian flag flying between the Japanese and US ones in uptown New York. No idea why.


The view from our Montreal hotel (not the airport one)


Our last trip to New York was in 2008, and we’d bypassed a lot of the major museums to avoid line-ups, then ended up regretting that. So this time we plunged in.Lord, New York has amazing museums.

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) was up first, where we followed the good advice to start on the fifth floor, where all the major works are—famous Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s, Dali’s, Goya, Chagall, Monet. They had an online app to use an audio-guide. The other floors couldn’t measure up, but I did enjoy the pop art section.

The Ellis Island Museum had an interesting focus on the US immigrant experience, as it is housed in the building where they were processed back in the day, when immigration rates were staggering.

A statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island

We had pre-bought timed tickets to the very popular 9/11 Memorial Museum, but still faced a significant lineup to get in. It’s located where one of the World Trade Center buildings once stood. And the layout, all below ground, is somewhat confusing—still not sure if we saw everything.

It’s definitely an emotional experience, visiting there, being vividly reminded of a “historical” event I remember so well.

911 Memorial museum .... sobering!

What remains of the World Trade Center

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge and just fabulous. Of course, we didn’t try to see it all. We did get a Highlights Tour to get some sense of the Egyptian, European, American collections, with a close focus on some superb works in each. We went back to visit the American collection and the sculpture garden in more depth.

Pondering the lost of a continent!

We both happen to be reading An Inconvenient Indian, which discusses art depicting Natives, such as this

The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is a maritime and military history museum. There we got to tour a nuclear submarine; get on board a large military ship (the Intrepid) and see many war planes; and have a look at the Space Shuttle Enterprise—bigger than we expected! You do get a lot of US military history and a sense of what it would be like to work on these various vessels. Very interesting.

USS Growler Submarine

Inside the USS Growler nuclear submarine

Every Young Boys Dream Plane!

Yes, it’s a war plane, but this is an admittedly gorgeous design

New York has some of the great museums of the world. Whereas Montreal can’t even boast the best in Canada. But, the Musée des beaux arts (Fine art museum) was featuring an exhibit about New York artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and that was well worth seeing. They had an extensive collection on display, and if you didn’t know at the start, you’d realize by the end what an amazing photographer he was.

The McCord Museum attracted me for its exhibit of Montreal rock photography, but it was really small. The best part was their permanent collection on the history of Montreal, told by street and neighbourhood.

Historic buildings

Jean told me I had to see the New York City Library this time, and he’s right; it’s pretty stunning. (And free to tour.)

The Amazing New York City Library!

Be quiet and admire the art

He wasn’t so sure about my idea of touring Radio City Music Hall, but that was great also—and not only because we lucked into free tickets from two ladies who’d decided they just didn’t have time to take the tour they’d already paid for. But it’s gorgeous in there, and amazing to think it was originally built as a movie theatre. Now, of course, it’s used for shows. most famously those featuring the Rockettes. The tour takes you backstage, below stage, and to special guest rooms. You also get a meet a Rockette.

Our Montreal food tour also happened to include a stop at a former movie theatre that is now being used for shows. This one, the Rialto Theatre, has had a much rougher ride than Radio City Music Hall. It has suffered some unfortunate architectural and design changes, and actually lay vacant for a number of year after being declared a heritage site. But the new owner is determined to restore it to its former glory.


The Rialto Theatre’s future is now looking brighter

Nature in the city

Part of what makes both New York and Montreal great are the vast parklands available right in the core. After being art-exhausted by The Met, it was great to amble back to our hotel through Central Park on a lovely sunny day. (We were lucky weather-wise this trip; mostly all lovely sunny days.)

In Montreal, when we had some time to kill between walking tour and dinner reservation, we took to walking to, up, around, and down Mount Royal.(That was a high calorie burn day, I think.)


See what I mean about the sunny days?

Both, of course, are also islands, and we enjoyed walking the Vieux Port in Montreal also—an area we haven’t visited as often. New York’s harbour, of course, offers some special views.

Lady Liberty Entertainment

We unsurprisingly failed to win tickets in the Hamilton lottery. Instead, we went to see runner-up for best musical, School of Rock. I chose that over The Color Purple for the fun, which it certainly had in abundance. But I did find a few moments surprisingly touching, particularly the “If Only You Would Listen” song by the kids.

And man, were those kids amazing musicians!

We did wish we had tried for Daily Show tickets—didn’t think of it in time. We did end up walking past their studio, though, on the way to the Intrepid.


We did not do much shopping, but Jean was determined to get to B&H store, which has a lot of photography items along with some tech stuff. The challenge was that they were closed for several days for Jewish holidays that week. But we fit it in a visit (barely) between our 9/11 visit and downtown dinner reservation.

And you know who’s the only one who bought anything at Jean’s mecca? Me. The Huawei phone I’d been eyeing looked lovely in person, and was discounted by $50 US. Combined with my Nexus 4 showing signs of age (irritating on this trip, as we were somewhat Google-reliant), I went for it. Then found out it came with not only a case and SD card but premium ($80 US) earphones and case, and various photography attachments.

But tip: Don’t try setting up your new phone on hotel wifi. Recipe for frustration.

In Montreal, I got my hands on case for my new eReader, and also bought a tiny wallet to go with the tiny purse I’d purchased for the trip.


Photo taken on new phone

Eating out

Both cities are great foodie destinations, but we didn’t book at any of the very top restaurants: no Toqué, no Per Se. And where we used the Michelin Guide on our last trip to New York, this time we relied on a mix of Frommer’s, Trip Advisor, and Google to find places to eat. Some highlights:

  • Our first lunch in New York was at Joe’s Shanghai, which doesn’t sound too promising, but it was very good Chinese, especially the soup dumplings, which had won some of kind of award.
  • Our lunch in the Financial District, at Southwest, an upscale Mexican place, was also quite good.
  • Forlini’s, an old-school, were quite amused I’d made reservations on a Monday, and even more so when I called to say we’d be late. “Hey, Cathy’s here!” he announced when arrived. On ordering the ravioli, I was told that was no good and they’d bring me the manicotti instead. The manicotti was indeed delicious!
  • Blue Fin, our pre-theatre restaurant, had some excellent sushi and a great cheese plate for dessert. Unfortunately the mains were a let-down; fish somewhat overcooked, mediocre pasta.
  • Despite being a chain (though one not available in Canada), Le Pain Quotidien, with a focus on nutrition and environmentalism, became our go-to for breakfast.
  • Best meal overall might have been at the bustling Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. We each had an amazing Manhattan clam chowder (best ever, perhaps), then shared a seafood plate of 10 oysters, mussels, and shrimp.
Great Restaurant at Grand Central Station!

New York has some very fresh seafood on offer

In Montreal, we were guided more by Where to Eat in Canada. We went to a quite good Indian restaurant in Old Montreal called Mirchi on our first night. The table d’hôte was a good deal there.

Our more splurge dinner was at Bouillon Bilk. A bit noisy, but very creative and nicely prepared food, and excellent service. Good ability to match wines, also.


Liked that the mains were as creative as the appetizers: Scallops with buttery cauliflower; guinea fowl in foie gras jus with figs, bacon, and shitake


Ricotta meringue in the forefront; chocolate mousse and cake with fig in the back

Our food tour of the Mile End neighbourhood in the Plateau area was very good, giving history of the place and its inhabitants along with the food samples. The group participating was a good mix of Canadians and Americans (including another couple from Kitchener). Over three hours, we got:

  • Falafel at an environmentally friendly vegan restaurant
  • Gourmet chocolate
  • Montreal bagel from St. Viateur (but of course!)
  • Gnocchi with tomato sauce (this is not a good tour for the gluten intolerant)
  • Charcuterie (cheese and meat) from an organic boucherie (the stuff did taste notably better than the usual)
  • Two chocolate pastries from a boulangerie

So you see why we walked up Mount Royal after.


Unlike hot dogs, it’s just fine seeing how bagels are made

And we still went out for dinner in that neighbourhood late, at Le Comptoir, which features small plates. All very good! We had a charcuterie plate, beet salad, smoked salmon with aioli, and agnoletti with cured beef and tomato.


Well, our flights (all on Air Canada) were short: Takeoff, get your drink and pretzels, then get ready to land. Flying out of Hamilton made for an easier drive, parking, and checkin than Pearson would have—worth the flaky wifi and limited restaurant options. But really, things were fine at Trudeau and LaGuardia airports as well. We were amazed how quickly we got through security, customs, and baggage pickup.

Neither city has particular good non-taxi airport transportation, though. We tried taking the Montreal airport bus back, but they wouldn’t accept a $20 bill—we would have had to come up with $20 in change. Really? So back to taxi we went. And the initial New York taxi ride was complicated by roads being blocked for a Columbus day parade.

Once in either city, though, we were well-served by public transit. New York’s was definitely confusing—despite Google help, it took a while to realize that more than one line could use the same track, such that getting on the first train that pulled up wasn’t always the best bet. But we got better at it. Both cities give you cards with fare loaded, that you then tap (Montreal) or slide (New York); weird that Toronto doesn’t have that yet.

We were happy with our centrally located hotels in both cities—and frankly surprised how large the New York one was. The only problem at Park Central were the elevators, which simply weren’t sufficient in number, so more than often than not incredibly crowded and slow (stopping on every floor for people who had no room to get on).

City culture

If I had to sum up New York, I think it would be “efficient”. Yes, the lineups were long, but man, they were processed fast. Even with all the extra security checks. No time for niceties; just get everyone through.

At restaurants, there’s no (or very little) wondering what the delay is, but also not much lingering over your meal. Get them in, get them out.

The streets are crowded. You have to keep moving. One night in Times Square, always the busiest part of town anyway, part of the street was blocked off for an Alicia Keyes concert. We were simply caught up in a crush of people trying to get by that part of the street. We all had to walk at the same pace. When another group filed past us in the opposite direction, Jean and I were separated and I moved ahead faster—til I finally found a small open area I could wait for him to catch up.

She is Forever 21!

A relatively uncrowded Times Square; not Alicia Keyes night

 Montreal seemed super-mellow by comparison. Spacious. Lower buildings (law that none can be taller than Mount Royal). Linger over your meal if you’d like.

And it’s good they weren’t hell-bent on efficiency, because there was construction everywhere! Main streets, middle of all Old Montreal, all over. (In preparation for a big city anniversary next year, apparently.)

And, Montreal is famously bilingual. Everyone must greet you in French by law, so we’d respond in kind, but then they might switch to English after overhearing our English conversation, but then back if we’re using a French menu…

Though it must be said we heard a lot of French in New York as well. And that Met tour we did? Tout en français, as we didn’t want to wait an extra 45 minutes for the English one.


25 / 50

We’re not the most romantic couple in the world, and don’t tend to make that much to do about our anniversary, but with the 25th looming next year, seems like we should do something.



The family asked about us having a party. Possibly because I mentioned to my sister about possibly having a party. “Don’t the kids organize the party?” asked my brother. Funny brother. (We don’t have kids, for those who don’t know.)

My friends assume we’ll take a trip somewhere. But, we kind of do that every year, don’t we? “A special trip.” Hmm. What would that be—and what’s not special about our current trips?

Also, does that mean my friends wouldn’t come to a party?

Actually, geography makes the whole party idea a bit tricky. Family is mostly up north. Friends are mostly not. I don’t see the bulk of either group travelling the 10 hours needed to get from one place to the other, so it’s a choice of family party or friend party.

Or, having two parties.

Hmm. What does Google say.


Let’s look at Yahoo: 10 creative ideas for celebrating your 25th anniversary

  1. Change things up at home. Paint the bedroom wall or rearrange your living room furniture.

Because, sure, what is more wonderful and romantic than doing home renovations.

  1. Do something especially romantic at home. Read poetry to each other by candlelight, for instance.

Yeah. No. Big no.

  1. Have a day of service — to each other. If you usually cook and your spouse mows the lawn, switch jobs for the day.

Again with the doing chores, Yahoo? And anyway, after 25 years, if you haven’t figured out your household labour division in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling resentful and wishing you could switch, then I don’t how you made it that far.

  1. Have a day of service — to others. Do something charitable, whether it’s making a donation somewhere, or serving dinner at a shelter.

OK, I’ll drop the snark, as that is a lovely idea. For better people than we are.

  1. If you’re going to travel, make it an adventure. Hike the Grand Tetons, go whitewater rafting, or learn to scuba dive.

Wait, did Jean write that one?

  1. Have a party, but make it sort of retro. You were married in the 1990s after all! Event planner Jason Jani, owner of the SCE Event Group, suggests making a playlist of songs from the year you were married and showing videos from the wedding. And if you still have your dress, wear it.

… Hmm, I don’t hate this one. But it in no way solves the geography problem. And I can’t see planning two nineties parties.

Suppose I’ll just put off thinking about this again, for now.

Did I mention that I’m also turning 50 next year?


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Skating’s greatest hits

The KW Symphony’s intersections series was about combining orchestra and… something else. Physics. Fiddling. Food. Heavy Metal. Though Friday’s concert was not part of that series (sadly not offered this year), it was still of that ilk. The partner this time was figure skating.

cover_kurt-browning-bea9d304There was no way I was missing this one. Particularly as it was being hosted by three-time world champion, first man to ever land a quadruple jump in competition, Kurt Browning.

Jean was considerably less enthused about attending.

If wondering, no, they did not somehow bring an ice rink into Centre in the Square, not have the symphony decamp to play at a hockey arena. Instead, most of the skating seen on video.

After an opening performance of An American in Paris, our celebrity host explained that while music was incredibly important in figure skating, it had to go through a certain amount of mangling to fit the sport’s requirements: Cropped to fit into the time constraints. Tempo adjusted to match the tricks. Bit recombined to create certain moods.

This meant that when the symphony played the soundtrack to a video of Browning’s world championship performance of Casablanca, they couldn’t just the pull out the sheet music for “As Time Goes By”. Instead, the conductor had to write a new orchestral score for the Frankenstein version of that piece that Browning skated to.

It was gorgeous.


Example of Cranston’s art

Browning was so moved by it, he barely knew what was on next, so conductor Lucas Waldin stepped in to explain that it was a tribute to Toller Cranston (who apparently pioneered this whole orchestra / figure skating idea), featuring selections from the ballet Gayane.  This time, the screens showed scenes of Toller’s amazing paintings and decor before showing his Sabre Dance skate with live orchestra. Just fab.

Given the chance to recover, Browning emerged to point out that while artistic, figure skating is still a sporting competition with some serious rivalries over the years. The Symphony played Sing Sing Sing while we saw clips from the battle of the Brians, the battle of the Carmens (though they didn’t mention that both were defeated by Canuck Liz Manley), Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan (remember that?), Virtue/Moir vs. Davis/White, and so on.

We then moved on to a montage tribute to skaters past, when they had to skate outdoors (!), and future, in the form of the youngsters at the KW Skating Club. And Kurt Browning introduced Don Jackson, 1962 World Figure Skating Champion, who was in the audience. Cool! Oh, and the tune played for that piece was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

The next bit seemed to be interrupted by a badly timed cell phone call—only it was Kurt Browning’s phone, and on the line was Olympic Bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. (Seriously.) She talked about she managed to get through that Olympic performance just days after her mother died. Then the symphony played La cumparsita to a video of it. (Using a few stills so as to not have to cut the piece down to exactly 4 minutes.)

YouTube of Rochette’s Olympic performance from European TV

Kurt then dragged out a collection of his costumes from over the years, selecting a purple velvet hat and robe for conductor Lucas Waldin to wear. We then got a montage of some of the more interesting sartorial choices figure skaters had made (admittedly, many from gala and not competition pieces), to selections from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

Kurt emerged in his Singin’ in the Rain outfit, and we got a singer! And tap dancer, it turned out: Mr. Geoffrey Tyler. With all that going on live, this song was not played to video footage of that famous skating piece. Instead, via roller blades, we got some live Kurt Browning skating! And the first standing ovation of the night.

The video we didn’t see of Singing in the Rain

At intermission, Jean said we very pleased about high entertainment value of the evening so far.

And he was not being sarcastic!

The second half kicked off with the Symphony playing Phantom of the Opera, on their own. Kurt came out to discuss the fact that many skaters tried to skate to that piece—but none had really succeeded in achieving an iconic performance with it. Too big a song, perhaps, for the white, bright, bare stage of figure skating competition.

Singer Tyler returned to perform What a Wonderiful World, a show piece of Kurt Browning’s. Tyler also talked about how he’s worked with figure skaters. on the dramatic aspects of their performance, on connecting emotionally. We then did a bit of a 180 into an Abba medley (though Abba sounds great orchestrated!), highlighting scenes from the world of professional figure skating.

And then, the hauntingly beautiful Mahler piece, Adagietto from Symphony No. 5. Conductor and Browning discussed how only very special skaters could do it justice. Katerina Gordeeva was one; she skated it solo as a tribute to her partner, Sergei Gringov, after his sudden death.

Ekaterina Gordeeva 1996 Celebration of Life / Mahler – Symphony No. 5 (Serguei Grinkov Tribute)

Another were Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won Gold with it at the Vancouver Olympics. The video played to this beautiful piece wasn’t either of those performance in their entirety, but compilations of them along with some from Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who didn’t use the music (that I know of) but certainly brought emotion and drama to their pairs performances.

The next piece didn’t need, and therefore didn’t get, video accompaniment: Ravel’s Bolero, forever synonymous with Torville and Dean. Though Browning informed that Carolina Kotsner is one of the few who has successfully skated to the piece since that team’s perfect performance.

Our finale was the theme of the Vancouver Olympics, I Believe, featuring the adorable singers of the Grand Philharmonic Children’s Choir. And then they gave us an encore! (Note: This is rare at the symphony.) Conducted by Kurt! The Toreador Song.

As a figure skating fan, I was thrilled to bits with the evening.

As a non-figure skating fan, Jean declared that he glad he had been “dragged out” to this performance. (Again, not sarcastically.)

It was a great intersection.

(Thanks to Skate Canada for all the footage they provided they provided for the show. Much higher quality than what you can find on YouTube…)


Costs and benefits of reading Wired magazine

Wired magazine itself isn’t premium priced. Plus, they post most of their articles on their website for free. They get a little antsy about ad blockers, but that’s fair.

I started following Wired on Twitter during the last Canadian election. I thought that a little more science and tech news would be a nice break from all the politics in my feed. And I was right; it was welcome content. With the far worse US election on now, I can hardly give up on it.

But I hadn’t realized to what extent I was personally susceptible to constant promotion of the latest and greatest tech. I should have suspected, given that a single Wired article led me to spend I don’t know how much on a three-room Sonos system. I do love it, admittedly, but maybe there are other, cheaper wireless speakers that would have satisfied?


Mmm, shiny new tech. (Image: Shutterstock)

Now I’m constantly drooling over new cell phones. Not iPhones, mind—I am simply not of the Apple world, and not even Wired can convince me to join it. (Possibly because I take such perverse amusement in reading about iWorld troubles; to wit the hilarious Don’t update your f-ing iphone!

nsoonaecxhen0kibllqmEnd of digression.)

But in “my” world of unlocked Android phones, look what they said about the Nexus 6P (the later iteration of my current phone):

There is absolutely no reason not to buy this phone. None. Zero. The Nexus 6P is the closest thing there’s ever been to a perfect Android device.

The perfect Android device! Why wouldn’t I want that? There’s no reason!

Except that, you know, it is a $700 (Can.) phone. Wired’s answer to that  point (in US dollars) [bolding mine]:

The Nexus 6P is absolutely the best Nexus phone ever. Hell, it’s the best Android phone ever. And at $499 unlocked, it’s even cheaper than nearly all its competitors. Everything Google could do, it did. It proved how good Android can be—that an Android phone can be better than the iPhone.

So it’s a deal! $700 is a deal, because it’s the best phone ever!

Only while I was pondering that, it basically went out of production, because there are new Nexus’s (Nexi?) coming out soon, and Wired hasn’t reviewed those yet.

But they did review the Huawei Honor 8!

Huawei’s new device, the Honor 8 (there have been many other Honors before), is every bit the spec monster smartphone. Glassy, colorful design; 12-megapixel camera, plus a second sensor just for good measure; ultra-fast processor and four gigs of RAM; fingerprint sensor that doubles as a clickable shortcut key; latest version of Android; lots of storage, with room to add more. In most practical ways, it’s not that far off from Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7, or other Android phones like the new Moto Z. The only thing the Honor 8 is missing is the absurdly high (and VR-friendly) screen resolution, but you know what else it’s missing? $400 on the price tag.

Which translates to $520 Canadian. So look, by dawdling I’ve just saved $180! And, the Nexus is clearly too big (plus, out of production). I was about ready to order my new Huawei.

…Ignoring the fact that’s nothing really that wrong with my current phone, and the the little detail I don’t really use my phone that much, anyway. I’m much more the tablet girl, and Wired is kind of down on tablets these days (particularly of the Android variety).

I was also feeling some e-waste guilt. I started to ponder what could I do with the old phone, should I in fact get a new one. There are articles about that (you can guess where). It seemed it might serve as a sort of tablet extension for cases where the small screen isn’t so much an issue—for Chromecasting, Twitter reading, playlist display, and such. And yes, I can do that with the phone now, only that always risks me leaving the house without it—which doesn’t happen if I just keep the phone safely in my purse.

As I was justifying all that in my head, I won a 10″ tablet in a draw.


The prize

Now, this is not the sort device Wired would rave about. It’s a bit slow and clunky. It has only 8 GB storage and limited ability to use the SD storage. The screen looks acceptable only from direct angles. It’s not sporting the very latest version of Android.

But as an extension to my “good” Samsung Pro tablet, it’s fine! There are even a few things it does better.

It’s proven enough of a distraction that I’m willing to put off the phone purchase again.

Well, that, and the fact that I’m also… Awaiting shipment my new Kobo Aura One ereader!

The new Kobo Aura One is literally big, a 7.8-inch behemoth in a world of standard 6-inch displays. But its features are also outsized, whether it’s robust waterproofing, a clever new nighttime lighting system, or a way to help you read as many top-shelf books as you please without paying a cent. More importantly, they’re all enhancements you won’t find on an Amazon Kindle.

It was a mere $250 Canadian, and Jean thinks he will use my old Kobo. (Which is good, cause it’s still perfectly fine.)

Umm, how long now til the election?

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No idea why, but this year the garden produced the biggest tomatoes ever. They’re gorgeous and taste as good as they look.


One day’s haul

I’ve had good tomato years before, but never at this size.

Yesterday’s lunch was built around this ingredient. It was based on a recipe from the Nutrition Action Newsletter, but switched up the greens and pumped up the protein.


Photo by Kate Sherwood

  • 1.5 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Kernels from 1/2 ear of corn
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed baby greens
  • 1 – 2 Tbs roasted unsalted sesame seeds
  • 1 – 2 Tbs crumbed goat cheese
  1. In a salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt.
  2. Gently toss in the corn, tomatoes, avocado, basil, and greens.
  3. Top with sesame seeds and goat cheese.

Serves: 1

The basil was also from the garden, the corn—though not grown by me—was also Ontario fresh. Definitely worth using high-quality balsamic and olive oil for this.

Oh my God, so good.



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Let’s go to the Ex (whoa, baby)

When I expressed the desire to squeeze in a final summer holiday, Jean suggested Toronto as a place we could get to quickly enough to have time to enjoy with only minimal time off work (I took half a day).

“Hey, the Ex is on then,” I exclaimed. “Can we go?”

“Uh, I guess,” Jean replied, a bit mystified by my interest.

“The Ex” is the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual late-summer fair held in Toronto lo these past 138 years. Neither of us had ever been.

When I was a youngster back in Northern Ontario (from where one could not get to Toronto very quickly), the Ex seemed like coolest thing, based on ads like these:

The classic 1982 Let’s Go to the Ex commercial, with the cow

As an adult, admittedly, it seemed more like a site of cheesy entertainment and appalling-sound junk food (see: The Straight-Up Craziest Stuff To Eat At This Year’s CNE In Toronto). But, partly inspired by The Globe’s A guide to Toronto’s 2016 CNE, from someone who has been every year of her life, I thought we should check it out for ourselves. At least once in our lives.

Getting there was the first challenge. We aren’t experts on Toronto Transit, but the CNE grounds were too far for our usual “we’ll just walk there” approach to getting around in that city. The CNE website clearly listed the best transit options, but that didn’t stop us from messing up: Confusing the Dundas West subway stop(which had a direct bus to the CNE) with Dundas one (which did not). Taking a while to figure out that the “street” car stop at Union Station is not actually on the street, but below ground. And then some confusion about whether we were taking the street car in the right direction.

So we were well ready for lunch by the time we got there, and headed straight to the Food Building. We munched on completely un-weird fish and chips (Jean) and fish tacos (me), but when we walked around afterwards looking for things like the Bug Bistro and the philly sandwiches with whipped cream, we couldn’t find them. It pretty much seemed like any other food court.

Mind, we were rushing through a bit as we (well, I) wanted to get a seat at the popular ice skating and aerial acrobatics show. It featured Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. She indeed did a lovely solo, but I was actually more impressed with some of acrobatics, and from seeing two male ice skaters skate together. And it seemed a bit rude that they didn’t introduce any performers other than Joannie.

Much of the CNE grounds is a really big midway / fair sort of thing, with rides and games. We didn’t partake of that part at all, beyond walking through it. We had planned to Ferris wheel together, but Jean got a bit overwhelmed with the crowds in those parts.

Instead, we visited a few exhibitions spaces—the farm, arts and hobbies, kitchen stuff (my favourite)—and concluded the day with the (also very popular) Superdogs show. That was so cute and fun, all these different types of dogs doing tricks or playing the clown. Was probably the day’s highlight.


One of the Superdogs–from

After the Ex

The new Where to Eat in Canada had arrived just before this trip, so we took the opportunity to visit a couple of the listed places. We met some friends for dinner at Origin. I had been a bit pushy on this suggestion, despite never having been, so was relieved to find that:

  • The place was quiet enough for conversation
  • The food was very good
  • The prices weren’t outlandish

It’s one of those places with more of a tapas focus, and the servers were very good about helping us through our selections and bringing out items in a sensible order. We had the devilled eggs, a couple items from the raw (sushi) bar, a mozarella-based appetizer, a kale salad, and crispy calamari. (Who needs meat?)


This kale salad was freakin’ delicious

The next day went to the ROM ahead of our reservation at Cafe Boulud. We had forgotten, however, that we were just there in February, and basically remembered the regular collection enough that we didn’t feel the need to look at it again. They had a Chihully exhibit, but having also been to his gallery in Seattle recently, we didn’t feel inclined to pay extra for that. Fortunately, we were saved by being time for a tour of their Egyptian collection, which was really interesting!

Cafe Boulud is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant in a chi-chi poo-poo hotel. We were there for brunch, which is one of the cheaper ways of partaking in it ($45 for two courses with coffee). The wines by the glass were almost as expensive as bottles are in some others places, so we stuck with the $9 mimosa.


Berries tartine and soupe de mais (corn soup) with our mimosa

The food was quite good, though, excluding Jean’s duck confit being more salted than he cared for. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Gorditas de papa con chorizo, but I quite enjoyed it.


This is Gorditas de papa con chorizo

The rest of the day we wandered the streets of Toronto, the predicted rain never quite materializing. It was quite warm, so we stopped regularly for beverages of the non-alcoholic variety. We saw street fests and visited some favourite stores and burnt off restaurant calories.

On to Fall.


Live and on the CBC

I did watch The Tragically Hip show on CBC television last night. It seemed the thing to do, and I was interested enough. I’m of the age where their music formed the soundtrack of my life, whether I realized it or not. I own only two Tragically Hip albums (Up to Here and Road Apples), yet I knew the chorus of almost every song they played last night.

For any non-Canadians who stumble on this: The Tragically Hip’s lead singer and songwriter Gord Downie has incurable brain cancer. He’s in remission, and the band has done a cross-country tour, ending in their hometown of Kingston last night. National broadcaster CBC interrupted their Olympic coverage to bring the concert to everyone, commercial-free.

There’s been a lot of great writing about this band, and this tour, in Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, The New Yorker. I can’t compete. It’s not only that I’m not as good a music writer—though that is true—but also that, familiarity with choruses notwithstanding, I’m not a big enough fan. I could observe that the band were quite good, that they mostly pumped through the songs without a lot banter with the audience (hard to know what to say, one thinks), that Gord Downie restricted his talking to thank you’s and a comment on First Nations people up north, that they did three encores, that the show was about three hours long.


Gord Downie from an earlier Toronto show as, in a very strange decision, the promoter would not allow official photographers at the Kingston show

But I couldn’t truly get into the emotion of it. I’m not sure why, in all these years, their songs have never really touched my soul. They’re catchy, they’re in a genre I like, the lyrics are smart and highly original.

Maybe it’s simply that, until last night, I had never seen this band live.

Friday night Jean and I went to our first-ever CD release party. No, not our CD (heavens!); Alysha Brilla’s. Alysha Brilla is a local artist with some (not Tragically Hip level) national fame.

She once lived in LA, and was signed to a big recording contract. But she couldn’t fit into that little commercial box they wanted to put her in.

“They wanted me to write songs about going to the club. And picking up guys.” she commented on Friday. “And I’m like, but I don’t go to clubs. I don’t pick up guys.”

So she scampered away from that contract, and set up as an independent artist in Canada. And the only reason most of us have heard of her is the CBC Radio often plays her songs. (See her public love letter to CBC Radio.)

Her music has always been a kind of fusion of jazz / world sounds with a touch of pop, but the latest album, Human, has more Indian influences than her past work. I listened to it on Google Music (and yes, heard a couple tracks on CBC Radio) before picking it up on Friday, but I wasn’t sure about it. It has a lot of spiritual themes (one song is actually called “Spiritual”), it’s all peace and love and changing the world (another song is literally called “Changing the World”).

It’s very granola, you know?


Music, singer, songwriter, producer, artist Alysha Brilla

But after having seen her perform several tracks live, I’m kind of digging it. For one thing, she’s just such a charmer live—gets you in her corner right from the opening, and keeps you there. She was playing the Jazz Room, which has an unfortunate rectangular shape that is not ideal for live music, and was very full, and pretty hot, and during the 1.5 hour or so wait before she started, we actually pondered leaving.

But I’m glad we didn’t; the show was interactive and so fun. We got the stories behind some of the new songs: “Gender Rollz” was inspired by her time in LA, and the strict modes of behaviour expected of both men and women in the big music industry. “Ahimsa” (which means peace) came to her while on vacation in Kenya. The “Bigger Than That” singalong has great lyrics. And her cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” was awesome.(“Until Amy Winehouse came along”, she said, “I thought, ‘What hope is there for an olive-skinned weirdo like me?’”) It’s not on the album, but it is on YouTube.

And here’s some more: