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Ottawa getaway

Ahead of the long weekend, we took a long weekend, booking the Friday and Monday off and heading up to Ottawa. We had no major ambitions for our visit; it’s just a nice place to go relax. And the weather cooperated—it was a bit warm (hence me wearing nothing but dresses in the photos), but overall can’t complain about a sunny summer weekend.

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The Rideau canal area of Ottawa

We booked in at the Les Suites Hotel, very conveniently located downtown. The rooms are a bit older, but you certainly get a lot of space: a full kitchen, a living room with TV, along with the expected bedroom and bathroom. We took advantage of having a fridge by buying food from the Market to bring home (in a cooler).

Apart from that, the only thing we booked ahead were dinner reservations. Friday we ate at Beckta for the first time. It has a fancy dining room with prix fixe dinners, but we decided to eat in the slightly more casual wine bar. We still got excellent service and delicious food.

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These PEI oysters left us wanting more. We had them with an Ontario sparkling made specially for Beckta.

Jean tried the soup of the day, which was celeriac with coconut.

Celeriac and Coconut Soup

It was good, but not quite as good as my appetizer of Peking-style glazed pork belly in sesame crepe with cucumber and scallion relish.

Pork Belly Crepes

As mains, I had the risotto with shrimp, peas, and mushrooms, while Jean went with the Tagliatelle pasta with confit chicken, black olive pesto, and arugula. We switched to glasses of red wine with those.

Then with dessert, we each got a glass of sweet wine. Jean had a Tokaji, while I had a cabernet ice wine.

Strawberry and Sorbet

Strawberries and chocolate with sorbet

Maple Meringue

Which were almost as good as the maple semifreddo

Saturday we ambled around the uptown in the morning.

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One of the sights we took in

We stopped for lunch at Murray Street, where we had more oysters (this time with cider), and a lovely charcuterie plate of two cheeses, smoked ducks, and two styles of pate.

Charc Plate
In the afternoon we visited the National Gallery.

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Outdoor exhibit

Queen Bee!

Indoor exhibit

For our dinner at Signatures, we were joined by friends who live in Ottawa, which was really nice. Signatures has only prix fixe menus, of three, five, or eight courses. We went with three, but chose different items.

Foie Gras Torchon at Signatures

Jean had the mousse de foie de canard

And I the escargots au pastis et tomates.

Something at Signatures

Then I ordered the cabbage-wrapped trout with dill chips

while it was Jean’s turn for risotto with mushroom and peas. I believe the dessert was the same for both, and can’t recall what that was. (Not because it wasn’t good, though.)

Sunday was even warmer, but we still did the walking around thing in the morning, heading down Bank Street and over toward the Museum of Nature, which we visited after a lunch of Thai food. They had a feature dinosaur exhibit (the Museum of Nature did, that is—not the Thai restaurant).

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Our final Ottawa dinner was at Sidedoor, which has more of a “small plattes” approach. We were in a seafood-y mood, ordering halibut crispy fish taco, tuna sashimi with yuzu, and coconut poached halibut along with jasmine rice and Chinese greens.

Fried Halibut Taco

Lovely fish tacos at Sidedoor

Everything was quite delicious. The only sour note was that our waiter, who had started really well, seemed to lose interest in us at some point, not really checking back once our initial items arrived or asking if we wanted dessert. (I had to volunteer that I did—they have really amazing donuts here!) Odd, as it wasn’t especially busy or anything. Maybe someone had just told him the Brexit news?


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And a happy new year

With Verses closed, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do New Year’s Eve. We finally went with just a dinner at Marisol. And that was fine—food and service were good, as always—but it just wasn’t particularly special. Except for a salmon carpaccio starter and roast duck on duck confit main—both very good—it was just the regular menu.

But at least I got to wear a new dress.

Purple dress

Next year we might see if Haisai does anything for New Year’s. We did stop there on the drive up to Timmins, and meals there are always special!

Dessert at Haisai

The intriguing desserts at Haisai. (They tasted good, too.)

Yesterday the weather turned frightful with a winter storm, so it seemed a good day to do our new year’s cooking thing. We decided to return to some past fave items.

The starter was a tuna carpaccio with avocado quenelle, which we’d first made last year. This was the fastest, easiest item we prepared, but quite good, with its dressing of good olive oil and lime juice, And the Stratus 2010 white we had with it was complex and amazing.

Tuna starter with Stratus white

The main course took the main amount of time to prepare: Duck confit and mashed potato ravioli with white truffle sauce (first attempted in 2009). You have to prepare the mashed potatoes, and chop up and heat all the duck meat, then combine all that and stuff it into about 60 sets of wonton noodles… Fortunately, it really does taste amazing in the end.Duck ravioli and squash salad

We served that with a roasted butternut squash salad with pears and stilton, which was a new recipe. We followed the recipe except for cutting the squash a little thinner than we were supposed to (that was an accident, saved by less cooking time), using mixed greens instead of escarole (what is escarole?), and using “speck”—double smoked bacon we’d acquired from Michael Stadtlander’s farm after visiting Haisai—instead of regular bacon. It was very tasty, even when we forgot the dressing!

And the GSM wine we selected stood up well to all the strong flavors.

Dessert was chocolate souffle (from 2010). This year we got smart and only baked the two we planned to eat this night, since souffle really doesn’t hold up well to being a leftover. We served that with a raspberry wine that was less sweet than expected, but still a classic pairing for chocolate.

Chocolate souffle

And, I took the opportunity to wear another new dress. (I may have a dress problem.)

Black dress


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Dress for the weather

It’s past 8:00 pm and it’s still over 30C, and humid. It’s been like this for days. It’s officially a heat wave.

I must admit I don’t suffer that terribly during these. Fact is, I leave my air-conditioned house for my air-conditioned car, then drive to my air-conditioned office.

But also, I’ve been wearing dresses all week.

People, there is no better hot-weather garment in the world than the dress. Naturally, I do not mean the uncomfortable, bedazzled type of dress one might wear, say, when getting married.

Pink wedding dress

Not this kind of dress! (Also, hadn’t realized that “pink wedding dress” was a thing.)

I mean the plainer, looser type of garment that rests on your shoulders and just flows down from there, making a natural breeze as you walk.

T-shirt dress

OK, this one might not make a breeze when you walk. But you get the idea. It’s a very simple dress.

Obviously, the dress must be worn without any hose. Nylons would absolutely ruin the whole thing, in every way. No longer comfortable, no longer cool.

But just the dress, with some little sandals (and some undergarments, one assumes, but that’s really your business) is the next best thing you can wear in the heat. There’s a reason people in warm climes wear robes.

Buddhist man in robes

So pity the poor men-folk among us, who must make do with shorts–if their workplace even allows those, that is. Shorts are just not as good. They are a recipe for sweaty inner thighs. Who wants that?

The ability to wear dresses in summer is one of the very few advantages our society offers women over men.

And yet, I observe, not that many women take advantage.

Some, I suppose, may fear the air conditioning– that this outfit so perfect for the 33C degree, 40C humidex weather outside will only leave them shivering with cold while inside. A not unfounded fear (I actually sometimes bring in a sweater (!) just in case).

But an awful lot more, I think, either don’t realize how comfortable a dress can be (maybe they haven’t worn one since the prom?) or simply don’t feel comfortable in such a feminine garment. It’s undeniable that there’s nothing much more girly than a dress—even a simple dress—and girly just doesn’t sit well on every woman.

Fortunately, I am a lipstick feminist, totally in touch with my girly side.  (And no fan of sweaty thighs.)


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Dress shopping

Though I am interested in the US election, there’s nothing I can do about it, and I really have nothing to add to the huge, huge cacophony of voices on it.

So this is a politics-free post. About dresses.

This year, I decided to shop for a new Christmas dress. I’ve avoided having to do this for a number of years now, thanks to dresses acquired for other occasions (weddings) or on a whim (vacation) or so long at the back of the closet they’ve come back into style (more or less).

But this year, a new option seemed in order. It had been so long since I’d deliberately gone out dress shopping that I wasn’t sure where to go, but it turns out the web is pretty handy source for that sort of information. Chateau style was just not me, Bay just had too many options, Cleo not enough, Fairweather’s website sucks… But Laura looked good. So that is where I went.

Only… It turned out to be a factory outlet, so not too many of the dress styles I’d noted were actually available. Still, there were a lot of dresses, all neatly organized by size.

I grabbed some, tried them on, and found a pattern emerging: The dresses fit (good), didn’t look terrible (good)… But none were that great, either. I wasn’t too excited about any, and certainly couldn’t settle down to one.

But I didn’t want to have to find another store to shop in either (did I mention that though I do quite like dresses, I’m not overly fond of shopping, per se)? So back to the racks I went, picking out a few more options. I nearly ignored the sparkly, poofy prom / bridesmaids dresses, except… One sort of called to me. So what the heck. It joined the pile.

Round 2 in the dressing room went a little better, confirming that only one dress from Round 1 was really worthwhile. It fit well, flattering the figure, and had a fun color scheme. But it just didn’t seem quite dressy enough for Christmas, you know? It looked like this:

Black, red, and pink dress

Round 2 also included this flapper-style dress in a striking royal blue, which the saleslady said was quite popular this season. It was probably the most comfortable dress I tried on. It of course has that straight style, but it didn’t look bad on me. On the hanger, it looks like this:

Blue flapper dress

And then, there was the confection dress. Mauve, short, poofy, a bit sparkly… And completely adorable. Fit perfectly. Very flattering, really, as it hugged my thinner parts and poofed out over my thicker ones. Ended just above the knee, covering thigh, showing calf, all good.

I kind of loved it. But I also kind of thought I was 20 years too old to wear it.

Did I mention I was shopping alone? So except for the very busy salesladies, I had no one who could give me a second opinion here.

And at factory outlets? All sales are final. And, there aren’t multiple copies of each dress. Mostly, it was one, maybe two left. If you leave it, you might lose it.

On the other hand… At a factory outlet? Prices are way lower!

So you know how this story ends. I went shopping for one dress, and I now have three. Hey, I ballroom dance, I go to fancy restaurants… I’ll have opportunity to wear them. (You hear my justification.) Plus, all three together were less than the price of many of the new ones I was considering.

That night, I modeled them all for Jean, to see which he thought I should wear to his company Christmas party. This was his pick:

Mauve dress

So I’m thinking… a black throw of some kind, black hose—maybe with the seam up the back, if I can find that—and a cool bracelet. Even though I find bracelets annoying.

And quite importantly: Fresh dye job on the hair. Because this is not a dress that will go well with gray roots.