Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Visiting l’accent de l’Amérique

Our next destination after Prince Eward County was Québec City—currently branding itself as l’accent de l’Amérique, which is kind of clever. The 6-hour drive there seemed rather long, and a bit of a waste of another nice day, but we passed the time listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One, a fun, near-future sci-fi novel recently turned Stephen Spielberg movie. (The audiobook was read by Will Wheaton, which made one detail in the novel especially amusing.)

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Guess what was playing in Picton while we were there? Didn’t see it, though; didn’t want to spoil the book

We had booked a room at the fancy and historic Château Frontenac, which was having anniversary specials. So we had the door man, and concierge services, and a great, central location. The room was just one of their “basic” ones, but it was still a good size and comfortable.

Chateaux Frontnac lobby

Our modest little hotel

And the outside of it. It’s huge! You can get lost in its corridors.

We had wanted to have dinner at Toast, but—cue the jokes—Toast was closed due to fire. So we booked (or really, had the concierge book for us) at their sister restaurant, Simple Snack Sympathique, or SSS. We found it just as delightful as we remembered Toast being, with creative food combinations and lovely presentation. I had the Québec Exquis special, which was a prix fixe of three courses all incorporating maple syrup in some way. (Québec Exquis was a one-week period in which Québec restaurants featured three-course, prix-fixe menus built around items from québecois food producers .)

First up for me was snow crab, then duck (the maple sauce was amazing), then maple éclair. Jean went with the regular menu for foie gras, smoked pork, then fromage fermier (farmer cheese!) for dessert.

Tastes as good as it looks

We enjoyed a selection of wines from the Languedoc region with that—also part of the Québec Exquis special. (By the way, we had no idea before leaving that all these restaurant specials would be on.)

Jean took to getting up early for photos, while I had more leisurely mornings. Worked out for both of us.

How the world looks to morning people, apparently

Our first full day there, after a joint breakfast (not at the hotel), we walked down rue St-Jean, the shopping street outside the Old Town. This time we didn’t find too many treasures worth buying, though: just a bargain-priced collection of sheet music, for me.

We’d never been to Ile D’Orléans before—an island about a 30-minute drive from Québec—and had been planning to visit it this trip. But after driving around Prince Edward County, which is nearly an island, visiting various food-related destinations, we weren’t sure if we wanted to get back in the car and do the same here? On the map provided by the hotel, though, I noticed that there were bus tours we could take to the island. So we signed up for La route des saveurs, starting at 2:00, and running for 2.5 hours

Joining us on the tour—which started right at our hotel—was a friendly couple from Carolina, on an anniversary vacation, and two young women from South Korea, in Canada for what seemed like an absurdly short time for such a long trip. We found out that a popular South Korean show was filmed in Québec City, leading to an increased number of Korean tourists going there and looking for the “red door”. (CBC story: How a popular Korean soap opera is drawing Asian tourists to Quebec City.)

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Not the red door, but still a cool shot of Old Québec

Our guide was a lively young man with an enthusiasm for both Québec and the culinary products of Ile d’Orléans. Being early spring, with snow still in the fields, the island landscape wasn’t as lovely as it presumably becomes when plants are in bloom. So, we don’t have too many photos from this part. But, we did enjoy the tastings at each stop.

  1. Chocolaterie: Your typical artisanale chocolate shop, except that they also had an ice cream shop with chocolate-dipped cones. We enjoyed the chocolate maple sample, and bought another set of maple-based chocolates for later consumption, but resisted the ice cream, figuring that would give us a sugar overload too early in the tour.
  2. Maison Smith: A coffee shop where we sampled a maple latte. Normally I don’t care for sweetened coffees, but this one had a very light touch with the maple, and I quite enjoyed it. The owner gave an interesting overview of his business as well. We bought some ground coffee here, for planned use at our Ottawa accommodations.
  3. Sucrerie: Probably the most interesting stop, as the maple syrup was currently being gathered here and we got an overview of the whole process. We tasted various strengths of maple syrup and the maple jelly, which we bought a jar of.
  4. Cidrerie Bilodeau: Here they make dry and sweet apple ciders of various types, from dry sparkling to iced apple, any of which we were able to sample. We bought a cassis / apple blend that we figured could make interesting kir-like drinks. And also a jar of the most delicious apple butter I’ve ever had. Should have bought more. [There was no obligation to buy things at each stop. We just did.]
  5. Nougaterie: Run by an originally European couple who immigrated to Canada and established this business. They had nougat in an extraordinary range of flavors, all super-fresh as it was made on the premises. We restricted ourselves to purchasing a single salt caramel bar. Amazing-tasting caramel, though.
  6. Cassis Mona et Fille: Probably the most famous destination on the island. They make a range of products based on cassis (black currant), and gave us an overview of them all. In the summer, they also run a restaurant that is supposed to be quite good. All the drinks were lovely, but we especially blown away by the creme de cassis, which we bought (more kir!). We also got some cassis mustard (yes, it’s purple).

All that eating did not stop us from going out to eat later! We went back to an old favourite, Thai restaurant Apsara. We had one of the set menus that is a real bargain, even when we upgraded the included wine to be a Blanquette de Limoux. Each course was fresh and delicious. And the ladies got a lovely change purse as a gift at the end.

Assortment of Thai desserts—and note the cool teapot

The next morning we spent more time wandering in the Old Town, as we’d previously been rushing through it.

 The afternoon we spent at the Québec Art Gallery, which has only modern and contemporary works. Our favourites were the Inuit sculptures, which were just amazing. The building was formerly a prison, and we also had a look at the old cells. Not big!

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One of the exhibits at the Quebec Art Gallery. (Photo by me, hence the blurri-ness.)

Our last dinner in Quebec, on a somewhat rainy evening, was at Le St. Amour. We’ve always loved Le St. Amour. It’s in this gorgeous, high-ceiling roomed with a sunroof. And the food is always amazing. It didn’t disappoint this time, either.

We started off the evening trying to work in French—French menus, speaking French to the waiters (an ongoing amusement of the trip was Québecois complimenting Jean on how good his French was, for an Ontario. Well, I hope so.). But we detected a bit of an anglo accent from one of our waiters—bit unusual in these parts—and it turned out he was originally Australian! And still had that accent in English.

L’amuse bouche at Le St. Amour. Or as they call it in English, the amuse bouche. (Food just sounds better in French.)

So he was happy to English-it-up with us, and then we were hopelessly back in English-land with everyone, with even the native Québec waiters. Oh well!

This part will come as a shock to you all, but I had the Québec Exquis special, while Jean ordered off the regular menu! For me this meant a main course of escargot and Jerusalem artichokes, a main course of duck, and a chocolate mousse-themed dessert.

Dessert

Jean started with foie gras, then had a lamb leg and ground lamb ravioli, and concluded with a cheese plate. We shared a bottle of Languedoc red, a Grenache-Syrah blend (no Mourvedre). With dessert I had a red banyuls (“a little French love letter to chocolate”, is how this wine is described) while Jean was recommended a sherry, which he enjoyed.

Cheese for dessert

A great capper to a very enjoyable visit. Our next stop on the way home was Ottawa.


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Hope

I didn’t want to write about it at all, and I won’t be going on about it now. But did want to say that yesterday’s fairly pathetic turnout:

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Obama inauguration crowds on the left; Trump’s on the right

Contrasted with the astonishing crowd who turned out today for the #womensmarch protest:

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Along with the multitudes protesting in cities across the United States, from states both blue:

And red:

Boosted by protests around the world:

Is giving me hope.


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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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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.

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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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Meanwhile, in America

Monday night, I’d had it with the “Bernie or bust” people. After that convention? After the almost cartoonishly sinister connections to Russia? You’re just going to pout—and boo!—because it’s not your guy?

This Seth Meyers piece summed up my feelings perfectly:

Hey! A message to the Bernie or Bust Die-Hards

Look, I’m Canadian. I’m from the country where 80% of citizens would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. She’d win every province, every demographic—the men, the less educated, the old people. We don’t feel the Hillary hate. We don’t understand the appeal of the Miserable Angry Bag of Orange Jello™.

™ Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail

But, but this is not meant to be another smug “look how great Canadians are” post. Because there’s one thing that’s brought me out of the doldrums the past few days, and that’s Americans.

After my disgust Monday night, I returned to Twitter Tuesday morning to find much discussion of Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC. I watched the entire, amazing, inspiring thing on YouTube. And after wiping up the sniffles, the world felt to me like a better place.

Tuesday night I had dinner with friends (always a good thing), and one remarked that she was a bit sad about missing the DNC convention that night. And that seemed slightly odd to me, a Canadian watching all that live. I’m not sure that I ever had.

And Wednesday night, I had shit to do. I had to catch up on the dishes, the groceries, the laundry… I figured I might try to watch President Obama’s speech live, later. Yet somehow, between all the chores, I managed to catch much of Joe Biden speech of righteous anger.

How can there be pleasure in saying, you’re fired? He’s trying to tell us, he cares about the middle class, give me a break. That’s a bunch of malarkey.

And pretty much all of Michael Bloomberg’s (former Republican, current In dependant) take-down of Trump’s supposed business acumen.

Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders, and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us.

Tim Kaine (yeah, I saw that too) wasn’t ab entirely riveting speaker throughout, but those Democratic Vice Presidential picks sure are charming, warm men, don’t they? And when he started to imitate Donald Trump’s “Believe Me!”—that was good.

And then President Obama came on and knocked it out of the park. The speech was long. It was late. (And now I’m tired.) But I hung on every word. And I liked the world… even more.

See, Canadian politicians don’t do that. This country just doesn’t have that history of inspiring speaking. Trudeau Senior, whose movie bio I’m re-watching, was very eloquent, had some good lines. His son and current PM can put together a decent stump speech. The late Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians touched many.

But it’s grasping at straws. It doesn’t compare. And I’m a total sucker for this sort of eloquence. I can’t put words to what made President Obama’s speech so great; I again have to turn to the experts, the Americans, for that, per this brilliant Esquire article:

The president is all those things—jazz musician, torch singer, politician, president—all fashioned from his own aesthetic derived from the hidden music he found in our common history. He appropriated optimism and the best elements of that tired, loaded concept called American Exceptionalism. My lord, he even jacked Ronald Reagan, ringing his own changes on the shining city on the hill. He is cool in all the ways that matter.

November is a long way away, and I still don’t how understand how this thing is even close. But at least for today, I’m feeling more hopeful.

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Passing the baton

A PS: CBC’s Arron Wherry writes about why Canadian politicians don’t make speeches like American ones do. And why that might be unfortunate.


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Wining and dining through three wine regions

All that hiking requires a little sustenance…

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Highway traffic was unpleasant on Thanksgiving Sunday, so we diverted through the Beamsville wine area. We attempted lunch at the lovely Vineland Estates restaurant, but it was full. Fortunately I had noticed that nearby Ridgepoint Wines also had a restaurant, and even more fortunately, they had room for us.

Fall leaves

Finally time to stop and enjoy the foliage. (Though, to be honest, these are American leaves from later in the trip.)

It’s not as fancy as Vineland, but we had a nice meal there of squash ravioli and mushroom risotto, respectively, accompanied by meritage and Cabernet franc. (I tried Cabernet franc all over the place on this trip, and can now conclusively state that the Pelee region is really a superior one for that grape.) We did a little wine tasting afterward as well, purchasing of bottle of white Cabernet—something I’ve never seen before.

We’d made dinner reservations at The Epicurean near our inn, and were looking forward to a leisurely meal from their main menu. However, all they had on offer was a three-course Thanksgiving dinner. We masked our disappointment by dawdling over the wine selection, finally picking a bottle of Stratus 2011 San Giovese, which was good. And it turned out that the food was as well. We both picked the ham over turkey as our main dish, and it had lovely smoked flavor and came with terrific sides of green beans and sweet potatoes.

Furthermore, we got our fine dining experiences the next day, first for lunch at the Riverbend Inn, then with dinner at Peller Estates winery. It has a beautiful room, well-trained wait staff, a talented chef, and a menu with suggested wine pairings. We’ve often had the five-course “surprise” menu there, but this time we went with selecting from the menu. After the amuse, I had a smoked salmon and caviar with creme fraiche pearls appetizer, served with rosé. Jean selected their chicken pate served with their delicious ice cuvée (sparking wine with a touch of ice wine).

Appetizer wines at Peller Estates

Appetizer wines at Peller Estates

Jean then had a pasta “interlude”, a course I skipped, My main course was a delicious icewine butter poached lobster, served with Chardonnay. Jean had a bouillabaisse with a Sauvignon Blanc.

We then shared an amazing dessert of chocolate cream with freeze-dried mousse and cookies that was just amazing. And looked gorgeous. Unfortunately, our photos were lost on a damaged SIM card…

Wineries

We visited two Niagara wineries for the sole purpose of wine tasting. First up was Caroline Cellars, which we’d quite enjoyed a few years ago. This time we were somewhat disappointed. None of the wines we tried were bad, but they weren’t very interesting, either. We did buy their Riesling and a rose, however.

We were more successful at the next, Between the Lines, a new winery whose description I found intriguing. They didn’t have a huge number of wines, but most everything we tried, we liked. And we were the only ones there, making for a fun and informal visit. We bought their Chardonnay reserve, the 2010 Pinot, and the Meritage reserve. And they told us to look out for lemberger grape in the Finger Lakes area… It’s common there, while in Niagara, only Between the Lines works with it. (They were already sold out.)

Finger Lakes

Dining in Finger Lakes started on well on Tuesday, with a lunch at Fox Run Vineyards. They offered wine flights along with cheese platters. We found the Riesling to be the best of the lot, but didn’t purchase any bottles here.

At dinner time, we discovered that a lot of restaurants in this area are closed on Tuesday! We rather arbitrarily chose an Italian place called Jerlando’s which wasn’t too bad, all things considered. Still, the next day we arranged dinner reservations for the remaining two nights here (once I was in cell phone range).

For lunch Wednesday, we aimed for a winery again: a repeat visit to Bully Hill Vineyards, which certainly has a nice location.

Keuka Lake NY

Bully Hill Vineyards view

It’s not a fancy place to dine, but the food is good. With the meal, Jean had an off-dry red that is characteristic of this region, while I tried a Chardonnay-Riesling blend.

at Bully Hill Winery, NY

Jean’s feast at Bully Hill Winery

Our dinner that night was at a funky organic place called the Stone Cat Cafe, near our Inn. (Inn at Grist Iron, which was just a lovely place to stay, by the way. They upgraded us to a huge room with an extra seating area.) They had a band that night, so it was a bit loud, but good food and service. I had a smoked salmon starter, followed by a puttanesca pasta. Jean started with an olive tapenade plate, then had a mac and cheese with duck crumble. (Mac and cheese is really big in these parts… Seemed to be on a lot of menus.)

Our Thursday lunch was in Ithaca, which didn’t have as many interesting-looking eating establishments as we’d hoped. We ate at Thai place that was basically fine. (And didn’t have wine!)

Dinner, though, was at Suzanne’s Fine Regional Cuisine, which has an unusual approach: They offer nothing but a single, set five-course menu for everyone. Your only choice is whether to have the matching wines or not. (You can pick your own wine as well, if you prefer. Or just drink water. That’s allowed, too.) The approach seems to be working for them—we almost didn’t get a reservation.

But the meal there was just lovely. Slow-paced, attentive service, nice room, quiet, and very fine food through all courses. The very handsome waiter also did a really good job of explaining about each wine we got—information about the winery as well as the wine itself—and about the preparation of each course. Next time out, we’re definitely going to have to visit Hector Wine Company, as their Pinot Noir just blew us away. We also quite enjoyed the two types of Rieslings we had.

At Suzanne's Fine Regional Cuisine in New York's Finger Lakes region

Scallops with (just delicious) cauliflower puree, at Suzanne’s

They change their menu weekly, but we got:

  1. Garden Tomato Soup, with Riesling
  2. Scallop on cauliflower puree, with Chardonnay
  3. Duck confit salad (probably the meal highlght), with Dr. Konstantin Frank (more on him later) lemberger red
  4. Coq au vin with Pinot noir
  5. Apple tarte tatin with a side of cidar and cinnamon ice cream, with Reserve Riesling
Dessert three ways

Tarte tatin like you’ve never seen it before! I wasn’t pleased with this at all! 🙂

Wineries

Dr. Konstantin Frank is one of the oldest and most renowned of the wineries of the region. When we got there on this trip, we recalled that we had stopped in here before, but had left because the wine tasting lineup was so long. That wasn’t a problem this time (on a Wednesday); we were ushered right in to start a tasting.

And we were glad we did, because they do make some fine wine here, and it’s not that expensive. Each person gets to try four wines in either the dry or off-dry style; Jean and I split up the options so we could try everything. They have really good sparkling wines, made with Chardonnay or Pinot or both, and quite a few good whites, especially. As it wasn’t that busy, they also let us try a few more afterward, including their lemberger.

We bought four bottles here: a Chardonnay-based sparkling, a barrel fermented Chardonnay, a semi-dry Riesling, and a Gewurztraminer.

Wine glass reflections

Had enough wine yet?

The other winery we made a point of returning to, a different day, was the one we’d regretted not buying from last time: Chateau Lafayette Reneau. We wondered if we’d like as much as the previous time—especially after Dr. Frank—but we did! Here you have to pay a bit for your tasting, but you can select any five you like from a list. They were pretty much all good, even the off-dry red made from concord grapes (the same ones you get in Welch’s grape juice).

But conscious of the import wine limits, we bought just three bottles here: A Pinot Noir rose, a Cabernet Franc, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. (These guys, as you see, were a little stronger on the red side.)

Prince Edward County

We had no trouble with the wine at the border stop on the way back into Canada, just as the Niagara wines were no issue on the way out. But it was nice, for this last part, to not have to even think about it anymore.

Though we didn’t take the pictures to prove it, we very much enjoyed our first dinner in these parts, at the Merrill Inn in Picton. It was a cozy, pretty room offering nice, quiet dining. I started with pickerel cakes and aioli that had this beautiful, light texture. They offered wine matching; that course came with a semi-dry Riesling. My main course was rabbit ragout with spatzle, that was very flavorful. Served with a Cab Franc. (Told you I tried that everywhere.)

Jean’s main course was a pretty spectacular gnocchi with mushrooms and truffles, served with Pinot noir. Sadly, we weren’t hungry enough for dessert.

Fancy dessert

Not from the Merrill Inn (could it be Peller?), though it could have been, theoretically…

Getting away from Wellington the next day was a bit challenging, as they were having a big pumpkin festival and parade! (Which explained the lady dressed as pumpkin in our cafe that morning. We’d thought it was a bit early for Halloween.) But once we did, we went over to Bloomfield to visit a shop that carried a whole lot of cheese from all parts of the world. Any of which you could try. We ended up with quite a stock.

Our final trip dinner was at East and Main, in Wellington (where we were staying). It’s fairly casual, crowded, and therefore somewhat loud. The food is quite good, though, with a focus on local ingredients.

Wineries

Between the lack of border concerns and the area not offering as many alternatives, we visited more wineries here than in other parts.

Wellington, Prince Edward County.

Pretty Prince Edward County. Mainly, we were here for the wine. (With a side of cheese.)

Karlo Estates Winery was the first target, as we’d quite enjoyed a previous visit there. They did as good job this time out as well, offering bits of matching food with each wine we tasted. We were surprised to discover they grow a lot of their grapes in the Niagara region. We tried about seven wines here, and bought four of them–an unoaked Chardonnay, a Sangiovese, a petit verdot, a barolo, and a port style. They were quite delicious, though I would note they were also notably more expensive than ones we’d bought elsewhere.

We then asked for suggestions of which other places to visit, as the number of wineries here is pretty extensive. They suggested Traynor, just down the street. That was a nice stop. The winemaker was there, explaining his process. It’s a small operation with only a few wines. His Sauvignon Blanc was delicious, very much in the New Zealand style. We also picked up the Alta Red blend, with the idea of letting it sit for a bit, as it tastes a bit young now.

.He then suggested Stanners Vineyard for their Cabernet Franc, but they were sold out of that. We tried their oaked Chardonnay, but weren’t really into it. Their Pinot Noir was nice, though, so we bought a bottle of that.

Lunch options were a bit limited, so we headed to Norman Hardie for pizza. We weren’t the only ones with that idea; it was a zoo! But they had a nice, app-based system for notifying you when your table was ready, and we only had to wait about 15 minutes. The wild mushroom pizza was quite delicious, as was Jean’s glass of Pinot Noir. My Cab Franc was just so-so.

Norman Hardie sign

Not our photo, but Jean did mean to take one like this…

Our last wine-tasting stop was at Hinterland, where they make nothing but sparkling wine, using both the traditional and the charmat method. We came away from there with a Riesling-based sparkling, reminiscent of France’s Crémant.

So yeah. We won’t be needing to hit the LCBO for a while. Indeed, we have a bit of wine storage issue right now… Time for a party?


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Fall pictures of falls

When our Fall vacation had to shift two weeks early due to work commitments, it started to seem a bit late to plan a European trip. Especially as I had to go to Montreal for work the week before that.

Montreal waterfront

Montreal was kind of pretty, too. (A rare photo by me.)

Considering various drivable locations instead of Europe, we came up with:

  • Two days in Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Three days in the Finger Lakes area of New York
  • Two days in Prince Edward county

Yes, those are all areas with numerous wineries, so we did do some tasting and drinking (and eating to go with it). But they are also quite beautiful areas that get great Fall colours.

Finger Lakes area

A wide view on the Finger Lakes (Keuka Lake, to be specific)

In Niagara, we did some hiking on the gorgeous Thanksgiving Monday in the Niagara Escarpment (where is nearer Niagara Falls than Niagara-on-the-Lake). You take steel steps down into the escarpment to a series of trails. The waterfront is especially gorgeous—the water is teal-coloured (like Lake Louise), for some reason.

Niagara Escarpment

The teal water in the Niagara Escarpment

The Finger Lakes area is particularly known for its gorges and waterfalls, and hiking options are plentiful. The first one we attempted was short distance-wise, but had the built-in challenge of having to walk through a creek to get a good view of the waterfall. Given that I had waterproof boots on, it was fun.

Grimes Glen County Park waterfall

Grimes Glen County Park waterfall

Buttermilk Falls, the next day, was a longer, gorgeous walk near Ithaca. It offered great views of the waterfall and gorge the whole way.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, NY

The beautiful Buttermilk Falls State Park

We went for a second hike that same day: to Taughannock Falls. This one took more effort (largely in the form of stairs) before we got to the views. (We’d been here on our last visit, but had taken a different trail then.)

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls from a distance, as this trail never brought us that close to them

While in the Finger Lakes area, we also took the time to visit the Corning Glass Museum. It was interesting, with exhibits on the use of glass in industry, medicine, and science; live demos of glass-makings; historical glass artifacts; and many glass art works.

Exhibit from the Corning Glass Museum

Exhibit from the Corning Glass Museum

We took time for one final hike on our travel day between Finger Lakes and Prince Edward County, to cutely named Tinker Falls. It was a more rainy day but we got enough of break to do a shorter but very cool trail that brought us to, behind, then up and around the waterfall area.

The trail behind Tinker Falls

Up close and personal with Tinker Falls

Prince Edward County does not have falls, gorges, and ravines; it’s more of a pastoral country area. Pretty also, though.

Prince Edward County evening

Prince Edward County evening