We dined in domes, tents, and old Victorian houses. We had five dinners but we only left two tips (and we don’t suck). In between, we walked, we wined, we saw some art.
Blog title courtesy of Jean, who was determined to have some time off after not getting any at Christmas time (beyond the statutory days). We didn’t venture too far from home—Beamsville, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, Kleinburg, which are all within a two hours’ drive. And it wasn’t, per se, designed as a culinary tour. But it did turn out that way!
Because, you see, I’m still making some efforts to avoid catching Covid. And when it came to selecting restaurants, well, it wasn’t your Mom and Pop fish’n’chips places that offered space. And clean air. Those only came packaged as “dining experiences”. Covid safe(r), it turns out, is kind of delicious.
We left home mid-morning, headed to an appointment at Commisso Estate Winery in Beamsville. Their website promised wine tastings in a “fun, safe, private” environment. I didn’t necessarily trust the promise—so many places just didn’t bother to remove their Covid protocols page once they stopped following it—but I figured a smaller winery in February wouldn’t be that crowded. I optimistically (and pragmatically, given that dinner wasn’t til 7) also ordered a charcuterie board.
It worked out. We ended up being their only customers at this time. Not only that, but their tastings are conducted in a tent that was plenty warm, thanks to gas heaters. After we were seated, we got the history of the place, and overview of the wines.
I’ll blame Gus the cat for my slowness in getting into any kind of Christmas spirit this year. A few weeks after his pretty speed recovery from the injury above his eye, he suddenly come down with something… He stopped eating, grooming, or doing anything other than shuffling uncomfortably from one sleeping spot to another. It was a weekend, and the vet was open only for supplies, not medical appointments. They suggested taking Gus to the emergency veterinary hospital.
There he got tested for everything imaginable. He had some neurological symptoms—asymmetrical eye pupils, inconsistent results on the “knuckling” test—and few slightly abnormal results on the blood test. Could be infection, could be tumors… He was admitted and hydrated, appetite stimulated, given pain killers, and started on antibiotics. I went home to fret.
Gus responded quite well to the various ministrations, though, and we were able to take him home the next day. He seemed pretty good from that point, though lower energy, and with the uneven pupils persisting a while. We continued the antibiotics for seven days, and a few days later, the eyes improved, the energy back. I brought him in for a final check from our vet, who found that all seemed good, except for the eye on the injured side looking a little irritated.
So she suggested a week of twice daily eye drops. Gus was much better about letting us give him those than we expected. What seemed much more upsetting to him was if we had to chase him down first; he’d sometimes hide for hours afterwards. So we took to surprising him with eye drops. Those done, he continued to seem quite fine.
Jean’s Mom, who’d never been quite the same after a stroke in February, passed away in late August. The family decided to have a small memorial service. The date selected was Saturday, November 5.
We left around 10:15 AM, intending to stop over in Sudbury on the way to Timmins. The drive started uneventfully enough; we were diverted by the audiobook of State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny.
But after an hour and a half or so, Jean noted that the car seemed to be losing power periodically, during which it was quite reluctant to accelerate. Maybe just gas quality? he suggested. As we Googled to find the nearest gas station, I suggested options. We still had time before we really had to be anywhere. Maybe we could get the car looked at. Maybe we could rent a car for this trip.
Well, let’s just try gas first, Jean suggested.
And indeed, filling it up did make it run smoother.
For another couple hours, anyway. But then it started doing the losing power thing again. Hills were a problem.
The weather gods were smiling on us during our recent trip to Montréal, Québec, which made for a very pleasant five days and four nights (October 2 to 6, 2022). Though we’ve visited many times, we still found new things to do, along with revisiting favourites.
I’ve learned how to do anchor links in WordPress, in case you want to jump to a particular part…
Covid precautions: Got my bivalent vaccine 10 days before leaving, which also happened to be six months since my fourth dose, so that worked out well. Also purchased 3M Aura masks, Enovid anti-viral nasal spray, Salinex Protect nasal spray, and a portable charger.
American Express “Front of the Line” offer: Elvis Costello and The Imposters, live at Massey Hall in Toronto in August. Sure, why not get tickets to that? Massey Hall is a great little theatre. And surely everything will be fine by summer.
Tickets now on sale for & Juliet…
Created by the Emmy®-winning writer from “Schitt’s Creek,” this hilarious new musical flips the script on the greatest love story ever told. & Juliet asks: what would happen next if Juliet didn’t end it all over Romeo? Get whisked away on a fabulous journey as she ditches her famous ending for a fresh beginning and a second chance at life and love—her way.
Juliet’s new story bursts to life through a playlist of pop anthems as iconic as her name, including Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time, Larger Than Life‚ That’s The Way It Is, and Can’t Stop the Feeling—all from the genius songwriter/producer behind more #1 hits than any other artist this century. Break free of the balcony scene and get into this romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo. The only thing tragic would be missing it.
Well, that sounds fun. And hey look, it’s playing in August. We’re going to be in Toronto anyway. Why not get tickets for this the day before the Elvis Costello concert?
“What are we going to do with this?” Jean asked, about the Corsi-Rosenthal box that he’d agreed to build, to humor me. And which had turned out much larger than we’d expected.
Literally four MERV-13 furnace filter duct-taped to a floor fan, a Corsi-Rosenthal box is a kind of homemade HEPA filter. Viruses and other nasties get trapped in the filters, and the fan blows out clean air. Thus replacing bad room air with cleaner air.
I mumbled something about it being useful when we had people over, but had to concede we don’t really have much by way of visitors these days.
“It could also be useful if we ever have to isolate from one another,” I mumbled.
One week later
“Where did you put that Corsi-Paranoid box?” Jean asked, using his “affectionate” nickname for it.
“In the closet,” I said. “Why?”
“We might want to run it for a bit…”
We had a plan (of sorts) that we executed. Jean got the upstairs rooms, running the C-R box. I got the downstairs. Main floor was the masking zone. Windows open. Doors closed. Cats rather confused.
His symptoms started two days after exposure, and were confirmed by rapid test after three. Thanks to four vaccine doses, the worst of it was two days spent in bed, feeling achy and exhausted, and the only lingering symptom a bit of cough. With ongoing positive tests, though, the isolation had to continue quite a few days after he was on the road to recovery.
One week later (August 2021)
Jean gets a call from his sister, reporting that she’s not sure how much more time his mother has. (She had a stroke in February.) He reconsiders his plan to wait until Labour Day before visiting her again.
We’re both tired of the in-house Covid protocols, but having stuck with them this long, it seems important to continue. It would just suck to get infected at the very end, after making so much this effort to avoid it for so many days.
One week later
Finally his test is negative. I have never developed symptoms, and the tests I subsequently take are negative as well. Jean thinks he should visit his Mom.
I had a nice visit with Jean’s Mom in June. (Jean was there too, to be clear!) He’s OK with me not travelling with him this time. I’m OK with doing my Toronto activities with my sisters instead of with him. Brief first hug in two weeks, then we’re each off to different parts of Ontario.
Elvis & Juliet
I’m not one to drive myself to Toronto, so I have to research what transit options have survived the pandemic. It’s pretty sad, people! Via Rail has only a single train running on Sundays, and it won’t get me there in time. Go Bus is a possibility (Go Train does not run on Sundays, why would anyone want to go to Toronto on a weekend), though it’s a convoluted route. Then I find: Flixbus! It’s cheap, the stop is nearby and reachable by local transit, and it’s a direct route to Toronto that gets me there in time.
It’s the first time I have taken transit since early 2020. Except for a bit of trouble finding the actual Flixbus stop, everything went well. Local bus to Ion to and Flixbus, all stops were close to one another (and to my house)., and all were on time. And no big traffic tie-ups on the way to Toronto, either… We actually arrived early.
Despite the heat warning that is to persist all weekend, I do the half-hour walk to my hotel. So many people on the streets! So many people in the hotel lobby! It’s all a bit mind-bendy after two weeks of studiously avoiding everyone, even my husband.
The hotel room is fairly uninspiring, despite its high cost (cheapest decent hotel we could find; Toronto is not a cheap city normally, and it’s still not quite “normal” times), and slightly high in CO2. Can’t do anything about the price, but I am able to quickly improve the CO2 reading by opening the patio door for a bit, letting in all the steamy, humid air!
But then I have to be off. Juliet, and my sister, await.
I grab some lunch on the way. We mwet up at the Princess of Wales theatre (six air exchanges per hour, MERV14 filters, yes I asked). I soon forgot about all that, though, because we have excellent orchestra seats, and the show is so freakin’ fun!
It’s all music by producer / writer Max Martin, so that means songs by Britney and Katie and Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson and even Adam Lambert...! Between that, and the Shakespearean premise, and the themes of girl power, and being your authentic self, and… I don’t know, I was just so entertained. I would see this musical again in a heartbeat.
Then it’s a nice family dinner with my sister, then a call with Jean back at the hotel. His trip is less entertaining than mine, but between naps (hers), his Mom is happy to see him.
After my hotel patio breakfast, with pigeon companion, I had planned to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But I checked first, and learned that it’s only open on holiday Mondays, not regular Mondays like this one. It’s another steamy day. I decide to just amble up to the Yorkville area, and take in some of its nice shops, plentiful park seating, cafes, and gelato shops.
Meanwhile, my other sister and I are emailing, trying to figure out dinner plans. Rain was threatening later in the day. I came across a list of covered patios, and found that one was near Massey Hall: the Rabbit Hole, and make a reservation there.
Sis and I meet at the hotel, and walk over. I “convince” her that we want to sit outside, despite the steamy heat. After some water, and sitting, it’s not so bad. And hey, we’re in time for “happy hour” $5 glasses of wine! We both settle on fish dishes: mackerel for me, salmon for me. They are really good! And are their nice, light desserts: the lemon posset, and the strawberry rhubarb trifle.
Then over to Massey Hall for Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with special guest Nick Lowe. Rather good seats for this show as well! (And I’ve finally stopped thinking about air exchanges—mostly.) And it all starts quite promptly.
Though I’m not as familiar with Nick Lowe and his oeuvre, he and his band (who did a few familiar instrumentals) were very good. And he did conclude with “Cruel to Be Kind”!
And Elvis Costello was just fab, and far more chatty than he had been when I’d last seen him live, many moons ago. He praised Nick Lowe, reminisced about previous trips to Toronto, mentioned the El Mocambo, talked about his musician father… And he played plenty of old favorites along with some from the new album and few others he just felt like including (Set list). His voice was still good, his band terrific, and his stage presence compelling.
Tuesday I was on the early Flixbus back to Waterloo. And I had it all to myself! (Except the driver. Which is good, because I can’t drive a bus.)
Two days later
Jean back, me still testing negative, we go out with a couple friends to the local Babylon Sisters Wine Bar. It was great to meet with them, and we were very impressed with the venue, both with the interesting wine selections (very flexible on how you can make up a wine flight), and the delicious food (supplied by Little Mushroom Catering).
I was mainly motivated by the thought of going somewhere that I hadn’t visited recently. Jean, who’d been going semi-regularly, but only for canoeing purposes, was dubious there’d be enough non-canoeing activities on tap to avoid boredom.
But, we only had a couple days off, and were not looking to fly anywhere, so options were limited. Goderich, Ontario, a small town on Lake Huron, came up the winner as our destination.
In researching, I was pleased to discovered that a number of wineries had sprung up in the area, and that’s where we headed first, for lunch at Dark Horse Estate Winery—which is actually closer to Grand Bend than Goderich. (Grand Bend is not on the above map, but it’s located between Sarnia and Bayfield.)
We knew their patio was covered, meaning we’d be fine rain or shine (although not near-tornado, which they’d experienced the day prior), but it was at any rate a beautiful day. It was also a lovely setting.
Jean selected a glass of their Baco Noir, while I went with a glass of Marquette, and we were both convinced we’d made the best choice—which of course means we each did. Surprisingly for Jean and less so for me, we both ordered their wood-burning oven pizza.
We both agreed—this was one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had. The crust… My goodness.
After paying for lunch and purchasing a couple bottles of wine, we drove further up the road to the little town of Zurich, for a stop in at Schatz Winery. There’s also an Inn and Restaurant on the site, and having arrived, Jean recalled that he’d attended a work function here years before, predating the winery’s existence.
We opted to do the tasting in the vineyard instead of indoors, and while between the two of us, we had the option of tasting almost every wine they have, Jean thought tasting 8 was a bit much, so we shared a tasting of 4. I was also intrigued by this beer / coffee blend they had on offer that day, so I got that as well.
We liked all of the wines, actually (keeping in mind that we prefer food-friendly wines that don’t necessarily have the big fruit “wow” factor). But based partly on price, we purchased a bottle of 1984 Frontenac Blanc, and the Rusty Petit Pearle (a red wine).
As for the beer, it was terrific! Even Jean enjoyed his sip, and he’s really not a beer guy. It was by a local brewery, and their idea was to create a beer that was reminiscent of a latte. They came darn close! I also got a couple cans of that. Thanks Ale Latte. Heh.
We then drove on and checked into our accommodation, the Dreamz Inn, just outside Goderich. It proved a perfectly serviceable place, offering good size rooms, an adequate continental breakfast, and few nice touches like fluffy bathrobes and free bottled water and chocolates. The only issue was the last morning, when a plumbing problem meant no hot water for showering! But they did give us a $50 credit for that, without us asking.
But that afternoon, we finally headed into Goderich proper before dinner time, and did some walking around the beach and downtown area. It is a pretty little town, and nicely rebuilt from the devastating tornado in 2011.
We had dinner on the patio at Part II Bistro, the best-rated restaurant in Goderich. It was quite good. I started with the pear salad, and followed with mushroom-infused sacchiette pasta. Jean had an arancini-type appetizer (a special that day) followed by the pork and broccollini ravioli. Their wine list featured wines from local wineries (not exclusively, but mainly). I had an Alton Farms rose while Jean fell in love with the Dark Horse Sinful Red.
The following day was lovely weather again, and we struck out for a beach walk to start the day, after breakfast.
We then ventured to walk part of the recommended Tiger Dunlop Trail, including over the Menesetung Bridge. Jean had low expectations going in, but this turned out to be a beautiful walk with great views. We weren’t able to do as much of it as we would have liked, so something for next time.
Though we considered a few other options for lunch, they were found wanting, so we did a part two at Part II Bistro. It didn’t disappoint. I had the vegetarian risotto, and Jean went with two appetizers, the escargot and the gnudi (along with his beloved red wine).
We had been planning to visit Maelstrom Winery in the afternoon, as a few people had recommended it, but it proved farther away that we thought. (I mean, 20 minutes, but that still seemed too far at the time.) So we instead visited the nearer-by 2nd Streetlight Estate Winery, whose Sauvignon Blanc I had enjoyed at lunch.
Again we were able to do outdoor seating, and this time Jean was up for trying all eight wines (sharing, so 1 oz of each per person). This was the only place where we got the personal description of each wine as it was poured, which is always a nice touch. And maybe we were just in a good mood (quite possible), but we pretty much liked everything. We didn’t buy everything, though. We were both quite impressed with the rose, Jean quite liked the sparkling Kin, and I thought the cleverly named Good Red was, indeed, a good red.
Then we had to figure out dinner. When first researching Goderich, we considered staying at the Benmiller Inn, a historic spot with a once-great reputation. But my email inquiries to them went unanswered, and the more recent online reviews were a mixed bag, so we shied away from it. Still, their posted dinner menu looked quite good—and we didn’t really want to eat at Part II Bistro a third time!
So we gave them a call, and after some debate among the staff, they agreed they could accommodate us if we arrived for an earlier dinner, like 5:30. We were amenable to that and realized, when we got there, that it was because they were also hosting a large wedding party (rehearsal dinner, not the wedding itself).
We sat outside in their really gorgeous garden setting. And you know… The food and service was just primo. Jean had an amazing bouillabaisse to start. My yellow fin tuna entree was smoky and perfectly cooked, with great sides. Jean said his roast duck was one of the best he’d had in ages. And the chocolate mousse dessert we shared… Lovely.
The Benmiller might be having its troubles and needing to rebuild, but on this night, at least, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders.
On our last day—the no hot shower day—we started with a walk originating in Point Farms Provincial Park, mainly known for its waterfall. Jean canoes these waters in spring, when the levels are really high. He was struck by how low they were in July.
The rest of the walk didn’t prove as interesting, though, and with the sky threatening, we decided to turn around early. We did experience some rainfall on the walk back, but it was blunted by trees. Having emerged, we decided to head home at that point, foregoing tentative plans to have lunch at Maelstrom Winery.
So that remains on the list for a future visit, along with doing more of the Tiger Dunlop Trail and its offshoots, and potentially:
A brewery tour (or two)
Visit to the Huron Historic Gaol, which is supposed to be pretty interesting
Hanging out on the beach (not just walking by it), maybe even swimming!
I promise this won’t turn into a big politic rant, but it’s just a fact that the Ontario government no longer cares if I (or anyone in Ontario) gets Covid—as long as not too many of us end up in hospital with it. (And even there, they keep mumbling about how they have some spare hospitals beds now.)
Happily for privileged me (and here I could do a rant about how the government has abandoned the less-privileged and the more-vulnerable, but I won’t), I do have considerable ability to, well, just stay home and avoid people. And the temperament to not mind it all that much.
But it is nice to leave the house once in a while. And I do have vacation days to take. We’d really enjoyed our time in Niagara-on-the-Lake in November, so earlier in the year, we planned to spend a few nights there in late March.
Then the government dismantled everything that had made that fall trip feel comfortable: Capacity limits—lifted. Vaccine passports—gone. Mask mandates—history. Meanwhile, the Omicron BA.2 variant, the most contagious one yet, makes its inexorable rise.
Still, most of our planned activities seemed relatively low risk. The outdoor hiking is obviously not a problem. Wineries offered private tastings. We could mask in the common areas of the Inn we were staying. But what about dinner???
Spring has not really sprung in these parts yet, so patios weren’t an option. And sure, you can do takeout. But we didn’t want to. Niagara-on-the-Lake has some terrific restaurants. And we love the whole multi-course, wine-matched, lingering indoor dining experience. But Covid-wise, there’s so little you can control when in a restaurant: you can’t mask, you can’t know in advance how well-ventilated the restaurant is, you can’t prevent other people from being seated near you.
I had more vacation days left than I needed for Christmas time, and there seemed little point in carrying them forward into the first three months of next year. So we took the first week of November off, and visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and the north shore of Lake Erie.
Fortunately the weather proved cooperative. We had a warm late October in southern Ontario, and while it got cooler this first week of November, it was very sunny—and that warm October meant that a lot of trees still had their colourful leaves. So not a “dreary” November week at all.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stayed at Harbour House, which is a pretty nice spot. It was not a huge room, but the space was very well organized, and it came with little perks like a bathrobe and a wine-and-cheese hour. I was a bit surprised that we had to show proof of vaccination upon checking in, but that was for the included indoor breakfast, which was quite good—granola, fruit, and yogourt, followed by a hot item such as quiche.
It was also on the lake, which meant some great walks were right there.
Originally we’d been thinking about flying to Nova Scotia in August, but then noted that there wasn’t a single car available for rent in the entire province that month. (This is due to the pandemic-caused chip shortage.) Then, we considering going there in early September, but we ran into the issue that our catsitter had a similar thought, and was flying to New Brunswick. Scary Covid projections for Fall were also starting to fly about then as well, and we got a little weirded out about being reliant on airlines to get us back home.
So switched it all up and decided to just drive to Killarney Mountain Lodge for four nights.
We took last Monday off and spent it visiting the Beamsville area. We started at a winery called Good Earth Food and Wine Co., which earned the honour by being the only place we could find there that was open for lunch on Mondays. It still proved an excellent choice, though. Their patio overlooks their lovely grounds, and their bistro menu is small-ish but clearly focused on their strengths. We quite enjoyed the whipped chicken liver parfait appetizer we shared, and my main course wood-oven pizza du jour, featuring bechamel, wild mushrooms, and truffle oil, was also lovely. (I don’t recall what Jean’s main was, but he was happy with it.)
I enjoyed my lunch with a glass of their orange Pinot Grigio, while Jean had the sparkling rose (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay). We liked both of those enough to buy a bottle of each (Pinot was $18, the sparkling $29), then went for an (also outdoor) wine tasting. With that effort, we came away with a bottle each of the oaked 2017 Chardonnay ($27), and the off-dry Betty’s Blend white (not listed on their website, so I guess you can only buy it in person). We decided against the Viognier.
Our next stop was at The Organized Crime Winery—selected partly because I liked the name! (I should note that, based our current wine stocks, we’d decided in advance to only try whites and roses, and the outdoor tastings in the heat of the day only strengthened that resolve. So apologies to red wine fans, I guess.) At Organized Crime, we picked out three 2020 wines to try: the Pinot Gris, an orange wine blend called Sacrilege, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Though we didn’t know it when making the selections, apparently 2020 was an excellent year for Beamsville Bench wines, so keep that in mind.
And we indeed found all three wines complex and interesting, but the Pinot Gris—which interestingly was more orange in color than the orange wine—was far and away our favourite. In purchasing a couple bottles, we found it’s a common opinion, and they sell out of Pinot Gris quickly every year. It’s $21 a bottle.
Next up: We’d made a reservation for tasting at Kew Vineyard Estate Winery, another “new to use” winery. They seated us at a lovely, treed outdoor setting and provided a little menu of wines, albeit with no tasting notes. But our server was quite willing and able to provide them for any we were interested in, and we also used our phone to look things up on the website.
We knew this would be our last wine stop of the day, so we did two rounds of three tastings. As a result, I don’t recall everything we tried! But I do know what we liked enough to buy:
2015 Old Vines Riesling, a real classic, delicious, dry-style Niagara Riesling, $16 a bottle (we got two)
2018 Rosalie, a rose of 100% Pinot Noir, a lovely drink for $30
2015 Fumé Blanc, which is an oaked Sauvignon Blanc—it does have a real smokey taste. Quite an interesting wine to learn about! The name was coined in California back in the day when the Sauvignon Blanc grape wasn’t much of a draw. One tip: No controls over the term Fumé Blanc, so hard to be sure just what kind of wine you’re getting. $20
North Cider Brut—a dry apple-based sparkling, which they call “Normandy style”, which I think would be just fine with food (like chicken). $13.
Despite it being somewhat warm and sticky, we finished off the day with a little hike at Ball’s Falls. It was good to get some walking in, though the falls themselves weren’t at their most impressive.