Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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.)


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.)


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!


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.


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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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:


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

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


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.


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.


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.


The view from our Montreal hotel (not the airport 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.


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…


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…


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! 🙂


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.


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

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Ottawa and Finger Lakes area dining

Somewhat of a continuation of my last post, this one focusing on notable dining experiences.

The Tuesday evening we arrived in Ottawa, we met with some friends and went to a very new restaurant called Das Lokal, down on Dalhousie street, below the Market. We all commented that we didn’t think we had ever seen that part of Dalhousie before, but it had some interesting shops and such.

The place was a bit noisy and the service seemed somewhat rushed or something, like persistently asking us about drinks when we first arrived and were still perusing the wine list. And we got bread, but no bread plates. “I find that very odd,” commented one of our friends. Maybe just opening-month kinks they need to work out?

Food-wise, everyone seemed happy with their appetizers, which in Jean and my case was a shared charcuterie plate, with very nice patés and such. As mains everyone but me ordered the rabbit with spatzle; I had the Cornish hen. Jean reported that the rabbit wasn’t as flavorful as he’d hoped, but I found the hen very good. For dessert each couple shared apple crisp, which was fine but not outstanding.

Cornish hen at Das Lokal

The Cornish hen

Rabbit at Das Lokal

And the less-successful rabbit with spatzle

Always good catching up with friends.

Dinner was just the two of us at Whalesbone on Wednesday. We started with some raw oysters, as per usual, but I was really struck by the special appetizer of the day, which included mussels in a spicy broth, fried clams, and smoked oysters on a creamy sauce of some kind. Everything was just amazing; maybe the best food of the trip.

Seafood appetizer at Whalesbone

All these items were just fabulous

The waitress recommended a bottle of Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, to have with this. It was more than others on the menu, but still only $52. It was indeed very nice and well-suited to the food.

Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc with bread

Le vin

(And all their fish and seafood, by the way, is sustainably fished.)

As our main courses, I went with BC trout while Jean had Ontario walleye. These were quite fine, with good vegetables to accompany.

Our first day in the Finger Lakes area, we didn’t feel like driving more, so we had dinner at an Italian restaurant down the road from our B&B in Montour Falls, called Mura Bella’s. They were very nice there, even giving us an umbrella for the walk home, as it was quite rainy by then (after a very nice day). It was our first taste of the local wine there, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t terribly interesting, either. The food was good, except for Jean getting frozen veggies with his main. (I mean, heated frozen veggies. They weren’t still frozen.)

Tomato and bocconcini

Nice tomato and bocconcini appetizer at Mura Bella’s

On the Friday after our hike, we had lunch at the Wildflower Cafe in the town of Watkins Glen, which focused on the local and sustainable. It was attached to a brewery and had recommended beers for most items. I couldn’t resist, so I ordered the recommend Blonde beer, which wasn’t bad, as beers go. Jean went with a glass of local wine, which tasted rather nouveau.

I had catfish tacos that were just delicious, really, with a side salad of corn and black beans. Jean had a jambalaya that he enjoyed. He also had room for an apple crumble dessert that I just tasted.

Our dinner that night was at Suzanne’s Fine Regional Cuisine, and it was very enjoyable. They specialize in set menus of varying numbers of courses. We went for the three-course rather than five. I started with a nice salad of pear, pecan, and blue cheese, while Jean had the corn chowder with bacon and basil oil. For mains we both had the duck with potato Galette and broccoli. The local wines we had here acquitted themselves better than previous; I started with a nice blanc de blanc (Chardonnay) sparkling, while Jean had a decent Pinot. And we both enjoyed the recommended Syrah with the duck; it was quite smooth, with vanilla notes.

(Jean seems to not have selected any pictures from this meal, for some reason… I was all dressed up for it, too.)

For dessert he had a Panna cotta in Concord grape sauce, while I had very delicious profiteroles with chocolate chip ice cream and brownies. I also ordered a local Port which was, very clearly, not Portuguese. 🙂 (That is, maybe don’t try Finger Lakes port.)

Lunch on Saturday was at Bully Hill winery, where we sat with on a patio with a lovely view (the drive in these parts was probably the best of the trip). The food was quite good. We shared grape-leaf wrapped meat appetizers, then I had a grilled goat cheese and portebello sandwich while Jean had chili. I drank a red blend from the winery and Jean had an off-dry red, which seems a bit weird, but is common with the wines here. We enjoyed both of those.

We also had dinner at a winery that day: Glenora. This was a disappointing meal, with service whose timing seemed a bit “off” all evening, and Jean’s main course of duck apparently suffered from having sat under heat lamp too long. Both our appetizers were good, mind you: I had fried calamari (a bit too big a serving, though), and Jean had squash soup. And my main of venison, mashed potatoes, and green beans was well-done, though would have been better if my red (a good Cabernet Franc) had arrived before I was nearly done with the food.

Mashed potatoes and venison at Glenora

This venison dish was good, but would have been more enjoyable with the red I’d ordered

On the drive home we had lunch in Jordan Station, Ontario, in a restaurant called Zooma Zooma cafe. That was very good; a nice capper to our trip.

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Remember that great Fall weather we had?

… because a week later, it’s pretty easy to forget that, what with all the gray and cold and even snow.

Fortunately, we were on vacation the previous week. It did start in Timmins, for the previously blogged-about wedding and funeral.

Timmins had just glorious weather while we were there, with highs around 20. We went for two big walks during our visit, one on the Ski Runners property, another through the “tailings rehabilitation” area at the end of the road my parents live on. Interesting to see how far that went, in an area that was largely off-limits to me when I lived here as a kid. At one point we had “beautiful lake and fall colors” on the left, “ugly open mining pit” on the right. That’s the north for you.

On Tuesday we drove to Ottawa, our biggest day of driving for the trip, as we split up the Timmins trip by stopping in Barrie overnight on the way up. So besides driving, all we had time for of note was dinner with friends, which I’ll write about separately.

Wednesday morning, for the first time on the trip, it was a bit drizzly, so we visited the Museum of Nature. It was our first time there since the exhibits were fully open, and it was fun to see everything. They had a special exhibits on ants, and another one on frogs.

Dinosaur section of Museum of Nature

We stepped into another world

Blue frog at Museum of Nature

With strange creatures

The rain had mostly stopped by noon, so after a sushi lunch we just did some walking around and photo taking, and visited a Bernard Callebaut chocolate store I’d spotted the night before on Dalhousie. Very good.

Bytown, just below Ottawa

The nation’s capital can look grand

War statue in Ottawa

Very grand indeed.

The next day we drove to the Finger Lakes region of New York. (Did we drive too much on this trip? Probably.) Our B&B turned out to be this huge, gorgeous old house in Montour Falls — right beside those falls, in fact, and near a church that had become a private residence. (Would love to know how they converted the interior into living space.) The B&B included a great breakfast with all kinds of fruit, baked beans, eggs, bacon, and on on, and it was interesting talking to the other guests, who were mostly Americans, but there was a young German couple staying there as well.

Cook's Mansion, Montour Falls

Our humble abode for the trip

We didn’t do a whole lot the first day but walk around Montour Falls itself.

But on Friday, we decided to emphasize the hiking, as the forecast threatened possible rain on Saturday. We started with Watkins Glen State Park, which had really nice trails through a canyon going around and even behind waterfalls. It included a fair number of stairs but wasn’t really that arduous; nothing like our Italian walking trip! Things were wet after all that rain, so we were glad of waterproof boots and rain jackets, but the weather was nice.

Watkins Glen State Park hike

On the stairs, in the canyon

Watkins Glen State Park hike

Some of the falls

Our afternoon hike was to another set of falls in a canyon, but this trail was just flat and didn’t bring you quite as close to the falls as the other had. It was pretty, though.

Hike in Finger Lakes New York

Hike to the falls

Waterfalls in Finger Lakes New York

Overland view of falls

Our dinner reservations were near this set of falls, and we ended up with some time to kill. We visited a few little towns, including one with a chocolate shop, so I stocked up on more of those. (My favorite local chocolate shops seem to keep closing on me.)

Saturday ended up being not so rainy after all. We started with a visit to a big market in Penn Yan, which was fun and provided me with a new purse. We then hit some wineries. Did you know there are about 110 (!) in this region? We got to 3.

The first was the big complex of Bully Hill. It’s very busy, but they do their wine tastings “en masse” here, with two guys providing lively banter as they pour everyone their choice of two options for a total of five tastings. It was fun, and there were two wines we would have bought if we hadn’t been concerned about wine limits when going over the border.

Location of Bully Hill Vineyards

View from Bully Hill

Once we found it, our next stop was Rasta Ranch, which has a real hippie vibe to it, with tie-dyed clothes and Jim Morrison posters for sale. A long-haired dude gave us a free-flowing sample of various options that were unusual, though not necessarily fantastic. Still, Jean was taken with the name of the Ja’maca Me Blush! wine and wanted to buy that. I then noticed Bohemian Raspberry, which they let me taste. Actually pretty good–very raspberry, not too sweet. So we got a bottle of that, too.

Finger Lakes scenery

Driving in Finger Lakes wine country

The best winery, wine-wise, was Chateau LaFayette Renau. We would have bought a bottle of everything we tasted had we, again, not been concerned about wine limits at the border. These included a nice 2007 Pinot, a delicious 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, a semi-sweet red blend that didn’t come across as that sweet, a very pleasant semisweet Rieseling, and a dessert wine based on the Niagara grape, the same one used in Welch’s grape juice, but here turned into a surprisingly pleasant drink.

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Join the Quiet revolution

I finally got around to reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, which is just out in paperback. I didn’t really need the book to confirm that I was an introvert, but if you’re not sure, she does include a quick test. I answered true to almost everything.

Cover of QuietThings became a little murkier as she explored related but not identical concepts such as shyness and sensitivity. Isn’t shyness the same thing as introversion? No, actually, though many individuals are both of these. But introversion, generally, means gaining energy from your own mental devices rather than from other people (who tend to tire you out), while shyness is a fear of being judged by others. I happen to be both introverted and shy, but it’s entirely possible to be a shy extrovert (which must be a special kind of hell, I would think).

Sensitivity, though, characterizes people who are “highly reactive”; who tend to get overwhelmed by stimulus. This is another characteristic that is often but not always associated with introverts, and I finally concluded that I’m not all that sensitive, really. Sure, I avoid ultra-violent movies because I find them too disturbing, but I can’t say I’m super empathetic, have great depth of feeling, or notice subtleties in my environment. (I’m a bit of a self-centered, shy, introvert, I suppose.)

But apart from helping you to understand yourself and others better, the manifesto behind the book is that North American society idealizes extroverts, making it difficult for introverts to find their way in the world, and particularly, to attain power. She argues that not only would it benefit introverted individuals if society recognized the strengths and abilities they brought to the table, but that society as a whole would as well.

At first I was somewhat resisting the idea that I had suffered prejudice all my life due to my temperament, but she did bring some valid points. The years of complaints about me “not participating in class” during school (and thank goodness I went through before “group work” became such a thing); the low cubicle walls at work so we can better “collaborate” (which results in so many being head down in earphones as they work); and the louder ones, rather than the smarter ones, tending to get their way at meetings.

And she gives advice for what you can do, from acting more extroverted than you are in certain circumstances to building in “down time” for yourself for rejuvenation to changing seating arrangements at your parties to make them more comfortable. (I’ll add one of my own: Apparently introverts are less likely to exercise, which I found confounding, because I quite enjoy it. People, you can do that alone in or around your house, to your own tunes, in your own way. You don’t even need that much space or equipment. Exercise does not have to mean sports or gyms.)

So yes, with nearly half the population in this boat, I can see why this book has had a lot of legs. Any thoughts on how to get the extroverts to read it? Hmm?