Cultureguru's Weblog

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

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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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Barbie-Q at Langdon Hall

Langdon Hall is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant and spa in Cambridge, Ontario.

Langdon Hall at night

Langdon Hall at night (by Jean)

This summer they have been offering barbecue experiences for the comparatively low price of $75 a plate. We decided to try out the one on the last Friday in August, featuring a menu by Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy and cheese from Montforte Dairy of Stratford.

They and we were lucky enough to get nice weather that day—no rain and warm, but not too warm. So we were seated outside, in a part of the grounds we’d never seen before. (Apparently there was a contingency plan for indoor seating if necessary, but it was not necessary.)

Outdoor seating at Langdon Hall

Outdoor seating at Langdon Hall

The servers brought drinks, but they explained that it was otherwise a “serve yourself” style. (All you can eat, I guess, though I hadn’t thought of it that way until now!) They had a soup and salad station, a barbecue station, and a dessert table.

They also had a selection of five wines on offer—for an extra charge—all available by the bottle or the glass: three French and two Canadian. Or, you could try all five in 3-oz serving stations. Jean and I couldn’t resist the “try all five” option, though I then realized that with this “serve yourself” approach, I’d have to figure out my own pacing through them all. They went from lightest white to heaviest red, so I aimed for the two whites with salads, first two reds with barbecue, then big red gliding into dessert if necessary.

We proved to be pretty effective at pacing our way through the meal, making it a lingering one. We paused partway through to visit their gardens—they grow a lot of their own food here. We noted a rabbit in the garden, and wondered why he or she hadn’t devoured everything in sight.

Langdon Hall

Flowers in the herb and veggie garden of Langdon Hall

There’s no point in listing everything we ate, but standouts were:

  • Watermelon gazpacho with herb oil and Monteforte Fresco—Who would have thought of that? But it was lovely
  • Shiso (an Asian herb) with peaches and plums and Montforte Blossom
  • Torched wild keta salmon—Outstanding texture and smokey flavor
  • Salt marsh lamb
  • Grilled corn with herbed chillies and buttermilk sauce
  • Decadent brownies (that was their name)—Deep, intense chocolate
  • Blueberry fritters—Nice little ones

All the wines were worthwhile, also, but the standouts were probably the Niagara Keint-He Chardonnay and the 2003 Haut Medoc red from Chateau Dasvin Bel Air.

Cheese and charcuterie at Langdon Hall Barbecue

Cold plate sampler

Corn and salmon Langdon Hall Barbecue

And warm

It was neat that chef Jamie Kennedy himself served us some of the barbecue items. (And he commented that he enjoyed working with a glass of wine in one hand.)

Jamie Kennedy at Langdon Hall

Spot the chef! (He’s the one pointing at the food)It

It was a fun night out. If they do this again next summer, we’re going to see if can rally up more troops for it.

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Cities of the French Riviera

I had never heard of Menton, France before this trip, but that’s where we stayed the whole time. It was a great home base. Quieter than Nice, but still offering plenty of interesting shops, good restaurants, and attractive architecture, especially in its Old Town. Our hotel fronted right on the beach, though our view was of the other side, the mountain. Still not too shabby.

Small town charm on the French Riviera.

The sand is imported; naturally, beaches here are rocky

Menton, France

A look at the Old Town streets of Menton

I can’t say we did anything particularly notable in Menton, however. We kept intending to visit the nearby Jean Cocteau museum, but never made it past the gift shop. So I could see going back and giving the place a bit more focus sometime. I would recommend it as a place to stay when visiting that area.


Monaco wasn’t far from Menton at all. It is theoretically its own country, though one very much dependent on France, that doesn’t require a passport to visit.

We had thought of spending part of our “free” day here, but ended up deciding against it. So we really spent only about a half hour, 45 minutes here, before one of the walks. It was enough time to climb up the central square and get a little bit of a sense of the place…

a very small principality on the French Riviera

… which is that it is very crowded, very dense, and completely paved over. There is no room left here to build anything else. Many people who work here have to live elsewhere.

(And I guess some might be interested to know that when we took the bus to the airport, it did drive on the famous race car track.)


Nice is where we did spend our free day, and where we finally visited a museum, one devoted to artist Marc Chagall. I enjoyed that more than Jean did. I like Chagall’s whimsical style and use of primary colors. I had no idea he’d done so many works based on the Old Testament, and was amused how many of those had a touch of eroticism. “That’s Jacob fighting the angel,” I told Jean. “I don’t think fighting is what they’re doing.” Unsurprisingly, I guess, Chagall did a whole series based on the Song of Songs (i.e. the “dirty book” of the Bible).

Other than that, we just walked around in Nice, down to the beach, and through its old section. It was more crowded and not quite as charming as Menton, but somewhat more appealing than Monaco.

Nice opera house

Nice opera house in Nice

Rothschild Gardens near Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer seemed a lovely little town:

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But we spent our time after our Thursday walk at Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens, one of those huge private homes that is now a heritage site that tourists can visit. Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild had ample time and money for decorating, and also pretty good taste:

Villa Ephryssi de Rothschild: Opulence now in public trust and still very impressive!

But most special and impressive were the extensive outdoor gardens, featuring many imported plants. Much of the house was designed to provide excellent views of these gardens.

Villa Ephryssi de Rothschild: Opulence now in public trust and still very impressive!

The gardens continue beyond what you can see here

Every 20 minutes, you had a chance to view the “musical fountain”, which means the water from various fountains gyrating in time to broadcast music. I’m not sure if that’s authentic to the time of the Rothschild’s, but it was interesting to watch.

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Hub and I are not really into the whole yardwork thing. But we do periodically put in a bit of effort. This year, we finally got the hot tub, which hadn’t worked in years, removed from the deck. That made more of a difference than either of us thought, making the deck actually seem somewhat inviting to sit on.

Thus inspired, we (well, mostly he) went after the weeds that had almost invaded the patio, making it look more like a patio again.

The gardens haven’t been particularly coddle but seemed to have enjoyed what nature has provided so far. Yes, the back flower garden certainly contains some monster weeds, but the flowers we planted long ago are definitely competing. The roses seem downright aggressive in their size this year, spreading up and out with their thorns and pink flowers, as if daring the weeds to come closer. And the cover flowers are abundant and on the move, some of them making their way onto the lawn, creating pretty little white patches here and there.


It was a good year for the roses

In the front garden, the tulips, daffodils, and lilies gamely keep returning. This year they are joined by a bunch of purple flowers that I did not plant. Perhaps these purple flowers are some horribly invasive plant I should be trying to get rid of. But I find them pretty, and they certainly like the shaded part of the garden more than the other flowers do.

It occurs to me that the herb garden probably looks like a big patch of weeds, but it’s actually the least weedy garden I have. It’s just that herbs are so ridiculously lush; normally only weeds to get such size. The tarragon and sage are, as always, monstrous. (I’ve started adding tarragon to many recipes. It’s quite nice, really. Sage, sadly, remains less versatile.) But this year’s returning cilantro, which seemed so wimpy last year, is also now tall, and spreading everywhere. Not to mention the dill I just planted, already a giant, and seeming to sprouts new offshoots every day.

The only other veggie I have this year are tomatoes. If the flowers are any indication, it could be quite the crop of those later on.

We even attempted to start a new backyard flower garden this year, from seed. We had the plot mostly ready, and the instructions on the wildflower seed bag made it sound very easy. Expecting something like grass seed, I was surprised that the flower seeds looked more like laundry lint. The package did warn that regular watering was necessary to get things going, so we’ve been obliging on that front on the days that don’t rain.

Sadly, all we seem to have so far is soggy laundry lint. Reading up on it, I think we may have failed to clear away enough mulch for the seed to make sufficient contact with the soil. This one may be a do-over.

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A new appreciation of sage

While I realized that some of the herbs I planted were perennials that would therefore come back the following year, I didn’t realize they’d come back as giants. The oregano and marjoram are sprawling, with much bigger leaves than last year. And the tarragon: I had no idea tarragon could get so tall. I wasn’t even completely sure it was tarragon at that size until I chopped it up for a recipe, which produced the distinct scent and taste of that herb.

But what I still have the most of, again, and now in a much larger size, is sage. It’s a virtual pasture of tall, stately plants with enormous. And as I’ve complained before, there are only so many things, culinarily, one can do with sage. Sage is not the parsely of herbs. Parsley is. (And parsely, sadly, is recently replanted annual that currently looks like a baby plant in there, fighting for a bit of space.)

And then… The sage started to flower. I don’t know if it just didn’t do that last year, or if it was diligently removing the flowers as they appeared in an attempt to get more leaves (not realizing I’d soon be overrun). But this year I let it be and… Wow. Sage is so pretty.

Photo of sage

(The tall leaves in the front-most of the image? The giant tarragon.)

And the bees just love all those flowers, and we’re supposed to encourage the bees. And yes, flowered sage does have fewer leaves, but with that number of plants…. Really not an issue. Plus, after I cut them and use the leaves in a recipe, I have a ready-made centerpiece for the table:

Photo of cut sage in vase


How does your garden grow?

It grows pretty darn well this year–certainly a damn sight better than last year!

Whereas last year we had one (1) pea, this year we actually had a handful! And they were delicious. And we’ve already eaten twice as many tomatoes (4) than we ever got all of last season–despite having far fewer plants this year–and there appears to be many more tomatoes on the way, working their way from green to orange to red.

Yes, the garden has been doing so well, in fact, that some animal has discovered it. This is a first, actually. It’s a raised bed, so that deters a lot of critters right there. I was just plain confused, at first, to find that the parsley and cilantro plants that had been so abundant with leaves at breakfast looked really… stemmy at dinner time. Took a while to realize that meant some sort of animal invader.

The next day was worse, the parsley and cilantro now completely leafless, and some of the tomatoes tried and discarded (they’re still pretty green, most of them).

Worst of all, the critter didn’t even touch the sage. Sage, I’m starting to realize, is the zucchini of the herb world: hardy, abundant, yet not very useful as a food item. That, I would happily share with anyone. Yet all of its many, many leaves remained intact, serving only tp make the naked parsley and cilantro plants nearby look more sad.

I went on the Interweb to look up “keeping animals out of garden”, and of course that just left me totally confused. Cayenne works, except when it doesn’t. Put dirty socks out there. Or smelly soap. Electric fences. Radios set CBC (human voice).

Anyway, we finally decided to try a modified fencing approach. We now have mesh fabric running around the whole garden, lowered at strategic points so that I can still get at it. I have no idea if I’m dealing with raccoon, bunny, or even cat exploring his vegetarian side, but regardless, at least that should make access more complicated, so hopefully they’ll go visit the neighbour’s garden instead.

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Hurray for basil (and its kin)

I’ve not posted for a while on the “things I like” theme, so here’s a short and sweet one: Growing my own herbs. What’s great about that is:

  • It’s easy. Most don’t require much coddling. Maybe water them if they look wilty, cut them down if they look a little overgrown. S’about it. Some even come back the next year (sage, oregano, and marjoram, for me).
  • Instant satisfaction. You don’t have to wait (much) for them to grow, and certainly no wait for fruit or veg to develop. They come with leaves, and that’s what you eat.
  • Delicious. One of the easiest ways to perk up an otherwise mediocre is to add fresh herbs.
  • Money-saving. At least, I think so, given the price of the little packages from the grocery store, particularly considering the entire contents don’t always get used. You grow your own, you can harvest only what you need, as you need it.

Today’s menu of gnochi with wild mushrooms in a simple olive oil/butter/chicken broth/Parmesan sauce were enhanced with very fresh parsley and sage leaves, which I crisped in the toaster oven. Very delicious with a 2008 Pinot Noir from Rosewood Estates, and only took a half hour to make.