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


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Chefs in Bloom

Not for the first time, our waiter asked, “How is the food, ma’am?” while looking at my husband, which was confusing to both of us. He also inquired as to whether it was OK to remove plates we were clearly done with, given that they were entirely bereft of food. Offered us more bread only after we were pretty much done our entrees. Kept trying to refill our sparkling water glasses with regular water. Initially forgot to bring us the dessert course.

And somehow, we didn’t mind at all.

The waiter was good-natured, and was definitely trying to do a good job.

And the food—which was very good—was $20 for three courses. That’s $20 Canadian for the whole meal. Despite including items such as beef tenderloin, lamb, foie gras, and fancy French cheeses.

Foie Gras ... my achilles heel!

The controversial but delicious foie gras

When foie gras alone is typically over $20 at a “regular” restaurant, that kind of a deal can buy you a lot of good will.

Yes, last Wednesday, for the first time in some time, we returned to Bloom restaurant at Conestoga College, where students’ training for a possible career in the hospitality industry includes running this restaurant open to the public—under the watchful eye of people who know what they’re doing. This week’s theme was foods of Southern France.

They went all out in trying to give us a French restaurant-like experience, starting us with an amuse bouche of mushroom and cheese. As appetizers, while Jean enjoyed his foie gras, I had a very nice wild mushroom crepe.

Crepes to Start

Wild mushroom crepe

We then received a palate cleanser of pear and brandy sorbet. Couldn’t taste the brandy much, but it was nice and refreshing. And pretty.

Pear and Brandy Ice!

For mains, Jean won the coin toss to get the lamb three ways, which was really great. I very unusually opted to go with beef tenderloin, as it was accompanied by an interesting mix of Brussels sprouts and turnips. (Other possibilities on offer were salmon and a bean cassoulet.)

Rack of Lamb .... hm hm hm!

Lamb in the foreground, beef in the background

The managing chef made the rounds of tables as we were waiting on our dessert (which they scrambled to deliver once they realized it was missed). They had no decaf espresso, so they made us a latte of decaf roobois tea, which was pretty good.

Jean had wanted the apple dessert, but they were out, so he managed with the cheese plate. I had a deconstructed blueberry tart that was light and delicious.

Benedictine Blue!

Benedictine Blue among the offerings

Dining at Bloom is an experience worth having. The service hiccups are just part of the charm.


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 Some good news (non-political)

My very talented husband has won first place in the Recreation category of the Grand River photography contest. It even came with a cash prize! This was the winning photo:

He walks on water!

Refer to the Grand River Conservation authority’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or Flicker accounts in the coming days for more information.

Earlier in the year another photo of his was selected for inclusion in an advertisement about Waterloo Region that ran in Moneysense magazine. That would be this one:

Milling about the Park

Cork restaurant in Elora also asked to use one of his photos on their website, a few years ago.

(And sometimes he just finds his photos used on websites, by people who didn’t bother to ask.)

He’s won so many photo prizes from his canoe club that they had to change the rules to spread the wealth around more. I can’t include all those here, but I personally liked this one so much I added it to my collection of desktop photos on my work laptop, even though I wasn’t on this trip with him.


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The week that was

Well, I made it through two+ hours of reading politically minded tweets without bursting into tears once, so that’s a definite improvement. I think my body has worked its way through the “stress response cycle” and closer to equilibrium.

I’ve been unhappy about election results before. Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives majorities in Ontario. Stephen Harper Conservative majority in Canada. The second George W. Bush presidency.

But never have I experienced a reaction like this one, of such complete anxiety that my heart was pounding, and I got tremors. I was too shocked and horrified to even feel sad. Sadness would come the next day.

I can’t muster up any real understanding for people who voted for him. The most charitable thing I can say about them is that they’re stupid, or ignorant, or both. The most charitable. Because the least charitable would be to believe that they are racist misogynists who want to watch the world burn.

I have almost as much trouble with the idealists for whom Hillary Clinton wasn’t good enough to earn their vote—and who therefore stayed home, or voted for a third-party candidate, or left the presidential part of the ballot blank. How could they not see the difference between a highly competent candidate with potential to be a great President, and an individual unsuited to the office in every respect imaginable?

The majority who did vote for Hillary Clinton, and the millions who had their voting rights taken away by one means or another (voter ID laws, ban on felons voting, purge of voting rolls, long line-ups caused by having insufficient polling stations and advance voting days—you name it, the Republicans did it) do not deserve what those fools have unleashed on them. Thinking about those people makes my heart hurt.

Because Donald Trump will be a terrible President. As we know from his campaign, he will select a cabinet and aides who are as nasty and unqualified as him himself is. As we know from his rise through the GOP, he will not be stopped by the Republican-led Senate or House. As we know from history, he will appoint a Scalia-like Supreme Court justice who will continue to vote against citizen’s rights long after Trump has vacated the office. As we see on the news, he’s made racial attacks acceptable again.

But, we also know, from Trump’s campaign and business dealings, that he lies constantly and does not keep his promises. Here, we can take some comfort, because what he promised to do was really appalling. Maybe he’ll find renegotiating trade deals too much of a boring bother to pursue. Maybe he’ll be content with opting out of the Paris Climate agreement, and not actually go as far as abolishing the EPA. Maybe he won’t suppress gay rights, just to annoy Mike Pence, whom he doesn’t really like. Yay?

The calls to action are coming in now. As a Canadian, I know just what I can do to influence US politics: Nothing. Truly, I can’t think of anything I can do to influence what goes on there.

But, I can vigilant against similar threats in my own country. America might never have seen a candidate like Donald Trump before, but other countries have. A friend from Venezuela says he eerily reminded her of Chavez. Trevor Noah has compared him to African dictator / strongmen. Me, I think of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, and his coarseness, constant lying, impulse control issue, racism, sexism, disinterest in facts and data, and love of the title but note the actual work of being mayor.

So don’t think it can’t happen in Canada—it already has.

We need to speak out against the Kellie Leitch’s of our land, who has cynically ceased upon Trump’s xenophobia and anti-intellectualism as path to victory in the Conservative party leadership. (And maybe even pay the $15 to get a party membership to vote against that woman—and for a more progressive option, like Michael Chong or Lisa Raitt. I’m thinking about it!)

And we should embrace that we currently have federal leadership that stands for the opposite of what was just elected south of the border. Arron Wherry has an excellent article on the potential here:

Whatever Canada’s faults, however it has failed in the past, there is much to be said for standing in opposition to what now seems to dominate American politics, not with self-satisfaction but with a renewed and newly urgent commitment to the plurality, community, benevolence and reason that is now lacking in the United States.

And when you meet your American friends, give them a hug, and encourage them in the fight to get their country back. What’s good for America is good for the world.


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Aure wines

Last weekend we had to go to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a work event of Jean’s. We were put up in a historic hotel, taken on a wine tour, then had dinner and evening of live jazz.

Poor us.🙂

So, I know, but the fact is we didn’t really feel like going, for whatever reason—maybe because we weren’t long back from our New York / Montreal trip.

But, such circumstances do have a way of putting one in a better mood. The Queen’s Landing hotel was quite attractive. Tawse winery, maker of fine though somewhat pricey wine, is interesting to tour, what with their hand-pick / organic / gravity-fed philosophy. And, we had a beautiful Fall day for that—20° C!

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Interior of the Queen’s Landing hotel—photo from their website

Dinner was fine—good conversation, decent food. Room acoustics made the jazz band a little loud for conversation, so we eventually got up the nerve to take to the dance floor. Being the only ones there able to dance that type of music, we had plenty of room to slow fox, quick step, tango, and jive.

Other than the included breakfast, we were done with corporate events the next day. The weather had taken a turn to the rainy, though, so that kiboshed any thoughts of hiking or ambling Niagara-on-the-Lake’s downtown.

But, it was fine for more wine tasting. We first stopped at Pillitteri Estates, earner of some good Google reviews, and one we hadn’t been to previously. It does make for pleasant visit. They have a food store section featuring nice jams, vinegars, ice wine chocolates, and such. And their wines are quite respectable, of the food-friendly and modestly priced type. We especially liked the Gewurztraminer Riesling blend, the Pinot Gris, and the Cabernet Merlot.

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Aure wine tasting room, from Uncorked Ontario

But Aure wines in Beamsville, picked out because I liked their description in the Wine Country Ontario app, was the best discovery. We were the only visitors at that time, so had plenty of time to discuss the four whites and four reds we tried—which is about everything non-reserve they have. I quite liked their blends, but they do an especially good job with grapes less commonly used—Viognier and especially Pinot Blanc and Marechal Foch, their best-seller. And most are priced under $20.

We also had lunch there, which they offer tapas-style. Very good squash soup, pork chorizo stew, grilled vegetables, and cheese plate. With lunch we each tried a glass of their reserve wine, which you can do for $9. The “wild fermented” Chardonnay was crazy good, very rich.

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Aure winery restaurant—picture from their website

So we returned from our arduous journey laden with wine and lighter in spirit.


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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.

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

Museums

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.

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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.)

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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.

Shopping

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.

cof

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 Italian.restaurant, 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Logistics

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.


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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.

Something.

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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.

google-anniversary

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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