Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Niagara-on-the-Lake in March

With joint March birthdays as an excuse, we got away for a long weekend, visiting Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. In Toronto, one of us got to the Tim Burton Exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lighthouse, while another visited MEC. There was definitely a strong Johnny Depp’s presence at the Burton exhibit (like Depp’s outfit from Edward Scissorhands), but most impressive was really Burton’s own paintings and sketches.

Mostly, though, we were there to visit with the sisters and their families, which was nice. We were well fed and had some interesting discussions on topics such as technology, politics, pet ownership, and Canadian wines.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stayed at Harbour House Inn for the first time. We were really impressed with that. We had selected one of their more modest offerings, but it was still quite a large room with fireplace. This was the bathroom:

Bathroom at Harbour house

The rooms also had an iPod dock, big-screen TV, DVD players, and fresh-made cookies. They also offered a very good European-style breakfast; DVD rentals (current movies; DVD player and big-screen TV in the room); a daily wine tasting; and shuttle service to and from restaurants for dinner—all included in the price of the room. Which, because it was low season and we had booked on Expedia, really wasn’t that extravagant. (Apparently, quite a different story in the summer.)

And of course, while there, we visited a number of wineries. Our big discovery, I would say, was Caroline Cellars, which our Harbour House shuttle driver recommended. We had certainly found some nice wines at other wineries, but they were quite often over $20 a bottle. At Caroline’s, we honestly liked everything we tasted, and all were under $20. Some well under. We were particularly impressed with the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($15.50) and the Bradley White (Sauvignon Blanc), at just $11, but we also got the Enchantment (Riesling / Gerwurtz) and 2007 Cab Sauv. None available at LCBO.

In terms of location, Megalomanic (nearer to Beamsville) was the most fun, as it’s up on a hill, and you get a great view. (Maybe I’ll add photographic proof later). We tried three wines there, including a Riesling so cold you couldn’t tell how it tasted (not so useful, that), and bought the Bigmouth Merlot ($25), a fairly bold red.

Other visits (over two days):

  • Tawse Winery, known for good but not cheap wines. We got a Riesling and a 2008 Pinot noir there—at $54, the most we spent on one bottle.
  • Creekside Estates, a source for a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Shiraz.
  • Coyote’s Run, which offers the interesting experience of tasting the same wine grown in two different soils. They’re noticeably different. We bought a Red Paw Chardonnay here ($22) that we’ve been enjoying this week. Full but not overly oaky.

We also tried mostly new (to us) restaurants this time. Stone Road Grille may have impressed us most. Jean had foie gras poutine (!) followed by duck confit. I had the Chef’s salad (which included duck confit, Niagara Gold cheese, and quail’s egg) and a pasta stuffed with sweet potato entree that was just amazing. Each item on the menu had a recommended wine (from all- Canadian list), and each entree was offered in a smaller portion, which was great. Then there was the dessert of chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate chile sauce, and spiced almonds. Yum. (And not too big a portion, either.)

Our fanciest meal was probably at Hillebrand Winery, where we had a three-course lunch. Can’t complain about the food quality there, either, and they did a very good job of matching the food to the wine. That was a big midday meal, though, so supper that night was at the Old Winery restaurant, which offers more pizza and pasta. All well-prepared, though, with good-quality ingredients.

So the only disappointing meal was at Inn on the Twenty, where we had lunch on the way in. It was mostly good—I was quite happy with my bison and mushroom main—but Jean’s mussels just weren’t fresh enough. Several weren’t open and those that were tasted kind of fishy. A restaurant of a certain caliber shouldn’t serve sub-par mussels.

And between all that eating and drinking, we did a little shopping, some walking, a lot of relaxing. Weather was quite cooperative for March, either sunny but cool or cloudy but warmer. After this week, there’s no complaining about that!


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Since you can’t beat winter…

My catsitter thought we were crazy to visit Algonquin Park in February, but I don’t know. Appears the weather there was better than in Southwestern Ontario. Less snow, anyway.

This trip was organized by the Waterloo Wellington Canoe Club. Neither Jean nor I knew quite what to expect, but it turned out well. The whole group was in a housekeeping cottage, with shared kitchen and living room area, but we had our own room. With our own bathroom.

And, contrary to the mild but snowy weather predictions, we got mild and… beautiful sun, at least on Saturday. Made it a fabulous day to go into the park and do some snowshoeing. (I should have some Jean pictures to add to this post soon.) We did two different trails, one of which led to some really nice views.

Sunday was almost as good, still really mild, though there was a bit of snow this day. We stayed on the Bondi Village grounds and got in just as much, if not more, snowshoeing there. Very nice grounds also, even though we didn’t get to see the fabled deer.

For food, we had to bring our own, but there was a potluck supper Saturday night, with the leftovers served up again for Sunday lunch. Happily, the group seemed to include many with culinary talent, and it was quite a good meal. Or meals.

For entertainment, there was no Internet and no TV, so conversation and card games ruled. Also reading. I got through a whole novel and about five magazines. Whoosh.

I guess the group does this kind of trip twice annually, and we’ll definitely consider going again.


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My Christmas vacation

In this Christmas of such amazingly bad weather for so many would-be travelers, I guess I will start by saying that our travels couldn’t have been smoother. Crowds not that bad, all flights right on time, drives to and from airports not daunting.

And Timmins itself was really a winter wonderland this year. Not too cold (-8 C was the lowest we experienced), and this freezing “mist” followed by light snow and sun just caused all the trees to be beautifully coated in white.

This one may be the prettiest shot:

Trees against blue skies

But this one shows the tree “frosting” more:

In front of Frosted trees

Of course, the visit was about family, and we certainly got to see many of the local relatives. Christmas Eve we first attended my cousin’s Réveillon (as did my parents and my brother’s family), so I was able to see a number of cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and such that I hadn’t seen in a while.

It was then off to the Lefebvre family Réveillon, which had a good turnout of all of Jean’s siblings and partners, and most of the nieces and nephews and their kids. The gift theme this year was food, and I think this was the funniest item that came out of the wrapped box:

Edible gift

(You can also get an idea of the delicious array of food available in non-gift form as well.)

Christmas morning was relatively quiet at McNair’s—just Jean and I and my parents doing our exchange, and talking to the Toronto sisters by phone. Though our gifts were not themed, there was still funny food to be had, in the form of these chocolates labeled Better Than Sex:

Chocolate gift

Jean went off for a family skate, then came back in time to see my brother’s kids tear into their stockings and gifts from grandparents and aunts. It was the usual fun chaos and major haul, leaving Neal to mutter something about how we’re definitely “picking names” for the kids next year. We’ll see.

Family visits, at this house, at that house, continued for the rest of our Timmins time. We also got out for some walks, and to see some friends. We did no Boxing Day shopping, except a bit in online form. (Although one bit was rather large, as we’re now booked onto a European River Cruise with my parents. But more on that another time.)

I’ll just conclude on a few more of Jean’s shots that I especially like.

Seth at arena

Nephew (great-Nephew, actually…) Seth at the arena

Mine shaft and Christmas ribbon

Timmins icon, all dolled up for Christmas.

Bird feeder

The very active bird feeder at my parent’s place.

Snowman

Jean’s fave Christmas shot.


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Ontario: Yours to discover

We didn’t have high expectations of our trip through Northern Ontario, but thanks to perfect weather all week, plus the fact that Ontario does happen to look gorgeous in the fall, it was actually a really nice getaway. I’ll have a full report later, but in the meantime, here are some highlights.

BYOB in Tobermory. We’d decided to dine at Molinari’s in Tobermory. They make Italian food, and I’d noted a bit wistfully on the way there that it was too bad they weren’t licensed, as a little red wine is very good with Italian. On arrival, we were the only patrons. We informed the owner that we’d like to have dinner there. Great, he said. But, he added, did we know that the LCBO was still open? It took a minute, but we figured out what he was alluding to. OK, we said. We’ll just pop over there, then come back. Just wait, he said. I have to pick up some stuff there anyway. Just lock up the door there, and I’ll drive you. And he did.

Aren’t small towns great?

No corkage fee, either. And very good food, at a very good price.

The colours of Manitoulin. We experienced great fall colours everywhere we went, really, but we were particularly struck by them on Manitoulin Island—maybe because we went there first, maybe because we weren’t quite expecting them, maybe because that’s where we did the most hiking. At any rate, it was just beautiful.

Petting a porcupine. Science North in Sudbury was fun in general, but especially cute was when the porcupine in the nature area made a run for it. (He was out of his cage while it was being cleaned, or something.) The trainer eventually corralled it, and while out, we were able to make his acquaintance. He was very cute, and felt kind of like straw to pet.

Fine dining in Northern Ontario. After a series of delicious dinners featuring items such as Moroccan lamb, mushroom risotto, elk carpaccio, green seafood curry, chocolate valrona cake, we realized that not only had we not had a bad dinner on this trip, but the overall food quality probably beat our last trip to France. This would not have been possible in Northern Ontario in years past.

Finally walking the AY Jackson lookout trail. I’m not sure how many times we’ve driven by it, but this year we finally hiked the AY Jackson Lookout trail near Sudbury. It’s really gorgeous. I can see how it might have inspired some paintings.

Full report on website


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Je me souviens

Jean: What does the Je me souviens on the Quebec license plates refer to, again?

Me: I don’t know. I can’t remember.

As the last of our “we need to do something this summer” expeditions, we went to Québec City for Labour Day, taking a couple extra days off on each end, because we were driving. We’ve been to Québec City quite a few times before—hard to remember how many; at least 8—but even though we tend to do the same sorts of things each time (art galleries, walking, dining), no visit is quite the same.

Itinerary

We left Thursday after work (and dinner at home) and got as far as Trenton. Friday we made it into Québec City around 4:00 pm. Monday morning we left Québec City and ended up in Ottawa, again around 4:00 pm. Tuesday morning we drove home from there, arriving around 5:00 pm.

On the way there, we took the 401 (well, 407 through Toronto) and went through Montreal, both of which were unpleasant. (Though did lead to the discovery that the GPS can detect high traffic in TO in Montreal—I’m still not sure how.) So on the way back, we went the backroads. Took a little longer, but was worth it.

Accommodations

In Trenton we just stayed at a Comfort Inn, where we got a good CAA deal. In Ottawa, through Expedia, we got another good price on the Cartier Place Suite Hotel, which is older, but we did have a full kitchen, and living room separate from the bedroom and bathroom. And it had a pool and hot tub, which we used (once we finally found it).

In Québec City, I think for the first time, we stayed outside the old city, at a Bed and Breakfast. It was a nice place with friendly hosts, and where we got to meet other people, from Washington DC, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, and Wasaga Beach. We had our own room and bathroom, though the TV was shared (and we ended up not watching at all. And not really missing it, either.) And breakfast was great: cheese, fresh baking and a variety breads, fresh fruit, cereals, and yogurt.

So the main deal was the 20-minute walk to get to the old town, particularly that rain was predicted on the weekend. But what we learned was that Québec City has a decent bus system, at least for getting from this part of town to the old town. In the end, though, the weather turned out better than predicted—cloudy, but not that much rain—so we only partook of buses once, avoiding one of the uphill climbs by taking the electric écolobus up to outside the gates.

Otherwise, we just did a heck of a lot of walking. To and from the B&B at least twice each day (once in heeled shoes—only me), then walking to the various sites we wanted to see. And we were pretty proud that we didn’t suffer from sore muscles or other injuries from doing so. Anyway, we certainly needed the exercise, giving the…

Dining

Jean’s friend: So, what are you planning to go see in Québec City?

Jean: See? We don’t go there to see things. We go there to eat.

And we were pretty successful on that front. Obviously, the road meals were fairly mediocre—Tim’s; Saint Hubert (which has some nostalgia value, but the food is meh); absurdly bad service at the cafe attached to the Cartier Place Suite Hotel; and “Roland’s Fine Dining”, which really wasn’t, but was in fact a cut above all else in this category.

Our big dinner was supposed to be at the three-star Laurie Raphaël, a restaurant we’d been hearing about for years. But it turned out to be a little disappointing.

The restaurant was completely full, and the tables fairly close together, so it was somewhat noisy. And while the service wasn’t bad, by any means, it wasn’t quite three-star, with, for example, the wine sometimes arriving a little after the course it was supposed to accompany.

We both had the “menu surprise”, which is a three-course meal for $55, but you don’t have advance warning of what you’re getting. After a very nice amuse of gulf shrimp and seaweed, the first course was a duck paté with pistachios, onions, and fruit. And while it certainly tasted nice, it seemed a little bland, given that they were working with very flavorful duck.

The main course was beef. It was perfectly chosen and cooked, and therefore had perfect texture. The problem? Just that beef requires no creativity on the part of the chef. Anyone can make good beef. You just have to pay for the good meat, then not overcook it. Now the accompanying vegetables, covered in a delicious truffle-scented crips, were definitely wonderful and creative. But still.

They had suggested two possible wines to go with this, so we each took a different glass. My Cotes du Rhone was wonderful, all smooth fruitiness to stand up to the beef. Jean wasn’t quite as sure of his more rustic Cote du Provence wine.

They then offered to insert a cheese course here (extra charge, of course), which we decided to go for. That was really great. Six different cheeses, none of which we’d ever had before, each one with a separate accompaniment: tiny mushrooms, fruit glazes, and so on. I had a really nice 1-year-old port with that, while Jean had a late harvest.

Dessert was equally impressive, a four-part thingie not all of which I can remember, but everything was both delicious and somehow light. (And definitely chocolate was involved.)

Still, I’m not sure we’ll go back there, especially given how much we also enjoyed these other restaurants, all of which were cheaper:

  • La Crémaillère, an old favorite that has somehow never been listed in Where to Eat in Canada, but we’ve always found it really good. It’s another white linen place, but less busy, more space between the tables. Here we especially enjoyed the snow crab appetizer, the rosemary lamb shank main course (mine), the basil tuna main course (Jean’s).
  • Apsara, a Thai restaurant that was just crazy busy and noisy, but what a deal. A cocktail, soup, three appetizers, three main dishes, dessert, tea, and a full bottle of wine, for $40 each. And everything is very well prepared: fresh crispy vegetables, nothing greasy, nothing oversalted, all just tasty and nicely textured.
  • Portifino Bistro, recommended by the nice folks at La Crémaillère (who aren’t open for lunch on weekends) with creative and fresh pasta dishes, and a nice selection of wines by the glass.
  • Conti Cafe, which initially put Jean in a bad mood by giving us a not-so-great table, but we perked up considerably on tasting the food: spaghetti with duck for Jean, lemon cod for me, both very well done.

Should also mention the Murray Street Cafe in Ottawa, which aims to offer gourmet food in a casual atmosphere. It does look like a casual bar, and the food really is wonderful. Here I tried “poutine” for the first time (Jean’s dish), but I put it in quotes because it was made with spatzle instead of fries, and was very light on the gravy and cheese. And really quite good. I had the healthier tomato starter, then the duck as my main, while Jean went with pork hocks. They also had a big list of wines by the glass, and I was pretty proud of how well my selections went with what we ordered.

Shopping

One of the first things we did in Québec was head to St. Jean street to visit our favorite stores: the medieval clothes (where I got a belt to go with the dress I’d purchased here last time), the used record store (which I don’t recall being that crowded and confusing last time), the kama sutra, and we discovered a new gourmet food shop! Everything looked wonderful here, so the fact that we only bought the following actually shows some self-control:

  • Greek olive oil (half the price we pay for it here)
  • Cranberry-flavored maple butter (their maple is lighter colour than Ontarian)
  • Vanilla sugar (specially for this particular pie crust recipe; very hard to find)
  • Whole nutmeg (biggest I’d ever seen)
  • Granité of sauternes
  • Ciel de Charlevoix (a blue cheese)
  • Epoisse (a stinky cheese)
  • Dried cranberries in cranberry oil

And we went to various galleries, as always admiring the variety of artists on display, but being particularly taken this time with Guy Corneau, of gallery Korno, one of whose paintings is above (though the photos don’t do justice to the live works). There was one in particular (not the one above) that we were both really taken with, though the price was such that it would take a little planning before purchase.

I also spent considerable time looking at necklaces (still mourning the loss of two on our Indiana trip), finally buying one at another outlet of the medieval clothing shop. Doesn’t replace what I lost, but it’s quite nice.

Free street entertainment

Québec City offers a lot of cool live outdoor entertainment in the summer. The first night we walked out onto underneath the highway overpass to see a live performance by Cirque du Soleil. Unfortunately, such events aren’t ideal for the short who arrive too late to get spots near the front. We were fine with the trapeze artists, but it was hard to really see what people on the ground were doing.

The next night, we were just waiting around the waterfront area, and some sort of performance was going on. It involved whale music, people on stilts, and exchange of fire. Still not sure what that was about.

The final night turned out to be Gay Pride. So we went to see a male Céline Dion impersonator. He only used his own voice on the very lowest parts; otherwise, it was lip synching. Anyway, it was strangely kind of fun. Though I think he was somewhat more feminine than the actual woman. 🙂

Sights

What did see beyond that? Well, not a whole lot. We did walk the Plains of Abraham. We intended to go to the Titanic Exhibit, but got deterred from the lineup. Plus the fact that it’s coming here soon, anyway. We visited the Market there (yes, more food!) for the first time. Very nice selection of produce, but we did resist any purchasing. And we visited the Market in Ottawa, in the rain.

Literature

As planned, we listened to The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens in the car. And we both got right into it, carried along the journey of this 300 lb. woman whose husband suddenly leaves. And in actual book form, I finished Lawrence Hill’s Some Great Thing, which was really enjoyable. A lot of great characters coming together amidst the backdrop of French/English tensions in Winnipeg. And I started Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth about Bullshit by Laura Penny, which is a little dated, but only in the sense that we’re even deeper in the pile now.


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Busy (for me)

Earlier in July I determined that I didn’t want all of summer to get away without me doing anything (given that we don’t take the “big” vacations in the summer, something the rest of the world seems to find odd), so I made a list of things I wanted to do:

  • Swim in a lake
  • See a play at Stratford (or somewhere)
  • Visit Toronto

Somehow, in the weeks these activities all got slotted in, other things also came up, so relatively speaking (that is, not compared to the parents and the workaholics, but for me), I’ve been pretty busy.

The weekend after my mother-in-law and sister-in-law visited was the long weekend, which began with a nice long lunch with the girls at Verses. Then on the Sunday and Monday (we couldn’t get reservations on Saturday), we went up to Tobermory. Sunday was mostly about getting there, but we did also visit the little town which was, of course, packed. They have a nice art gallery, but most of the stores are a little on the cheesey side.

We stayed and dined at the Grandview Inn, the only place there listed in Where to Eat in Canada. It was nothing fancy, but it was good food, well prepared, and with a very reasonably priced wine list. The only thing is that the food prices didn’t seem quite as reasonable, with entrees from $27 to $32. On the other hand, I can’t say I wouldn’t eat there again. When in Tobermory, where else you gonna go?

The next day we had a very enjoyable hike in Bruce Peninsula Park.

It seemed a bit chilly for swimming, though, so we moved on to Sauble Beach for that. Though not the hottest day of the summer, it both air and water were warm enough to make that fun.

On the way home, we tried a new restaurant in Goderich: Thyme on 21. This one we were really impressed with—creative seasonings and all. Would definitely eat there again.

The following weekend, I went to see The Tempest at Stratford, with a couple friends. We dined first at The Waterlot in New Hamburg, which was quite enjoyable, then took in the sold-out Shakespeare performance. It was very good! I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t a tragedy, so all the comedy of the first half was something of a surprise!  The cast, led by Christopher Plummer, were very good, with the woman playing Ariel particularly impressing (apart from Plummer, but I expected to be impressed by him).

The next day we had a 120th birthday party to attend: a couple who were each turning 60. Although we didn’t know tons of people there, it turned out to be a nice gathering. And Jean finally got to hear the violin he had helped build be playe. It sounded very good.

This past Tuesday I had the ladies over to discuss The Best Laid Plans, our book club book and also Waterloo Region’s One Community, One Book selection this year. I would recommend it, though it doesn’t have too much competition in the Canadian comic political novel category.

Then Friday and yesterday, we went to Toronto, by train (which happily didn’t go on strike on us). Weather was quite cooperative in being sunny and warm, but not insanely warm. We visited the Distillery district for the first time, admiring the many art galleries (one of which actually had an original AY Jackson. Just beautiful, and only $551,000!). We had an OK dim sum lunch at Pearl Harbourfront (I think Cameron in Kitchener is better) and a more enjoyable, though not spectactular, dinner at Vertical Restaurant on King West. And we stayed at the uber-cool Pantages Hotel.

Saturday we met up with Joanne and Jon, finally seeing where they live. Quite a nice condo. And after we spent a bit of time at Harbourfront.

Next weekend, the calendar looks clear at the moment. And that’s just fine!


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Niagara getaway

Despite the unrelentingly miserable weather this past weekend, we had a nice “joint birthday” getaway to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

We left around noon on Saturday, and our first stop was Rosewood Winery. We already knew that we liked their Sauvignon Blanc-like Sémillon, so we picked up a couple bottles of that, and their Ambrosia honey wine. Then we did a bit of tasting.

The 2007 Pinot Noir was sold out; the 2008 did not have the incredible rich fruitiness of that one. It tasted more like a Pinor Noir normally does, nice but somewhat light and tannic. Good enough for us to get a bottle anyway. Then we tried a few others, including the 2007 Mon Cherie, which is a cherry honey wine. Doesn’t that sound appalling? But it’s actually very nice, not overly sweet—only a little off-dry. Should actually work with food.

And, we bought some honey.

We then asked for lunch recommendations, and were directed to About Thyme bistro. It was indeed a nice place to eat. I had the thin-crust, smoked pork pizza and Jean had duck confit. I had a glass of cab sauv with my lunch (had never heard of the winery before, but it was fine), while Jean had the Egomaniac Sonafabitch Pinot Noir. Nice wine.

Then we doubled back a bit, because we wanted to visit Malivoire, an old fave. We were aiming for wines less available at the LCBO, and came out with their 2007 Chardonnay, 2006 Pinot Noir, and a couple new styles. The red Guilty Man is so named because it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon style that owner Martin Malivoire had once sworn to never produce. But it does include a splash of Pinot Noir and Gamay, and it is a really nice wine.

The other was the semi-dry 2009 Musqué Spritz, a light “Brunch-like” wine. Though somewhat concerned about when we’d drink it (we don’t do as well with sweet), it was different and good, so we got a couple of those also. And for getting 6 bottles, we got a free Cabernet France ice wine.

Next we headed to our B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and checked in. It would have been great to do some walking around at this point, but it was still perfectly awful out—rainy, cool, windy. So, instead we drank more! We went to a pub where I had a Guiness (yes! Like beery coffee. Which I actually don’t hate). And Jean had a red wine.

Dinner reservations were for 7:30 at Peller Estates. They were offering their five-course dinner for $50.

Peller is a very fancy-looking place; all French chateaux and nice linens. They did a nice job with the meal, which was actually seven courses if you count the “amuse” and palette cleanser.

  • Amuse: Single oyster—very delicious. Wine: Private Reserve Riesling 2008
  • Appetizer: Foie Gras & Goat Cheese Soufflé  Truffle White Bean Soup. Nice, rich flavor. Wine: Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2007
  • Palette cleanser: Sorbet
  • Main: Dry Aged Rib Eye with Lobster Knuckle Crust Barley and Woodland Mushroom Risotto. (Beef is beef, but the barley thing was cool). Wine: Signature Series Merlot 2004. Fantastic!
  • Cheese: Sweet Chili Crusted Blue Ice Croquette on Apple, Arugula and Toasted Walnut Salad. Wine: Signature Series Ice Cuvée. Not sure about this pairing, but each was nice.
  • Dark & White Chocolate Marquise With a Raspberry Gamay Compote. Despite thinking we were getting full, we had no trouble devouring all of this. Wine: Signature Series Cabernet Franc Icewine 2007
  • Then, decaf cappuccino’s.

So they didn’t chintz on the wine.

The next morning, I think I might have been a wee hung over. At any rate, something was making me feel somewhat headach-y and nauseous. (Jean was fine, damn him.)

So, I wasn’t much for the “breakfast” part of bed and breakfast, mostly drinking coffee and juice, and picking at my fruit. Jean had my helping of French toast.

And the B&B owner decided to site with us, and the other couple also staying there, and share her opinion on things. Such as:

  • Dinner at Peller Estates is a rip-off. We only felt full because of the rich sauces. (Oh, and also because I’m a small woman.)
  • Women in the Olympics are damaging their reproductive organs.
  • Buildings weren’t brought down by planes, but by explosions, during 9/11.
  • One can do astral projection (soul leaving the body) through meditation.
  • Smoking isn’t really that bad for you. Because it’s legal.
  • Norwegians are evil because they kill seals. There’s a video.

While I started out trying to debate these points, it soon appeared a bit hopeless. Especially when my head hurt. At least it was sort of… entertaining.

Anyway. After breakfast we went to more wineries! Actually, we went back to Peller first. We wanted that Merlot (which is $35). We were also shown the “private tasting room,” which has to be reserved, and given an offer to try more things. But I wasn’t quite up to it.

Next, Southbrook Winery. Turns out this one is also aiming pretty high end, with an emphasis on aging wine (which we don’t do in any big way) and some pretty expensive stock. Like, we tasted a $60 wine. So we didn’t get too much here—one Chardonnay, one Cabernet Sauvignon—and still felt we might have overspent a bit.

Next time, we’re going to have to get to Coyote’s Run.


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Indiana wedding

Remember pen pals? I used to have a bunch of them. Back in the days before email, discussion forums, facebook… It was one of the only ways to connect with strangers who lived far away.

And of course, mostly, I didn’t keep in touch with most of them. Some endured for only a couple letter exchanges; others lasted for years. But only a couple have lasted til now (even if more in email form these days): a grade-school friend from Timmins who is now in Edmonton, and Beth.

Beth is from Indiana. We were first matched via Teen Magazine when we were 13. (I just looked that up. Yep, still have all the old letters filed away…) Though contact has been far more sporadic in recent years than in our turbulent teens—despite the ease of email, et al—we have kept in touch all this time. Last weekend, we met for the first time. Because Beth was getting married. (Also for the first time. People keep asking that.)

Getting there

It proved fairly impossible to get there by train, and although plane wasn’t that expensive when leaving from Buffalo, in the end, we decided to drive.

We’d hoped to get away around noon on the Friday, but Jean’s work made that impossible, so it was more around 1:15 when we left. It was also pretty snowy and blowy. Fortunately, we left that type of weather behind us fairly quickly. We crossed the border at Sarnia, and that went well. We were a little ahead of rush hour going through Detroit. And then it just seemed like a lot of Ohio. Not the world’s most interesting state to drive through.

We were trying to arrive in time for a dinner for the out-of-town guests, to have a chance to meet a little bit before the crazyness of the wedding itself. Of course, with the late departure, we weren’t exactly early for dinner. (The predicted driving time of 7 hours proved to be about accurate.) But we did make it while people were still there.

Mind you, Beth wasn’t actually there at that point. That, combined with the name on the door—neither Beth’s nor her fiancé’s—threw us off a little. But then Beth’s Mom Judy recognized me. “You must be Cathy! I’ve been reading your letters for years!”

Thus welcomed, I also met Rick, the fiancé, who seemed like a really great, friendly guy. And not long after, Beth herself. Who was just how I expected her to be, really. And that’s a good thing.

But as noted, late arrival, so the gathering did break up not too much later. We went to check into the same Holiday Inn where most guests were staying, and were quite pleased with the large and bright room. But we were also still hungry, so we went to the Red Lobster across the road. Very friendly waitress, and the food would have been decent, had it not been doused in what seemed like an ocean’s worth of salt. Oh well.

Visiting Richmond

We had most of the day to ourselves before the wedding, so we went to the mall! And did get a few Christmas gifts there. But Jean was soon restless, so we headed into the “historic downtown” to see if that was more interesting. We did stumble upon a really great toy store there and acquired a few more gifts for the nieces, nephews, and friend’s kids. (We were puzzling over our duty-free spending limit, which we later looked up. It’s $400 for being away 48 hours. So no problem.)

Then lunch, for which we’d targeted an Italian restaurant listed under the “fine dining” section for Richmond. It was actually quite good and a really nice space.

Then we went to check out the local museum, which had some interesting items, like a mummy. Jean was particularly taken with the collection of classic cars. (I had no idea electric cars dated so far back. And rotary-dial car phones!)

Then back to the hotel for a bit of time in the hot tub (why is it always so hard to find the dial that controls the agitator for hotel hot tubs? We had to give up for this one) before getting ready for the big event.

The wedding

Wedding ceremony, dinner, and dancing were all co-located at the Country Club, another rather attractive space. Everyone in the wedding party looked lovely. The ceremony was very nice, with a personable minister presiding. My favorite was the quirky touch of having a “best dog” as part of the wedding party. (This is a dog Beth has been sitting for for years.)

There was no arranged seating for dinner, so we took the approach of seeking out a table of others who didn’t seem to know too many people, and asking about sitting with them. That worked out well. We first joined a colleague of Beth’s (from the college) and his wife, who were quite pleasant. Then we were joined by high school friend of Beth’s and her husband: Elaine and Scott. I was more on their side of the table, so ended up talking more with them. She’d managed to keep in touch with Beth since leaving Indiana after high school, but not too much with other high school friends, whom she was hoping to spot. (“I wish they were wearing name tags.”) Husband Scott was a school counselor for grade 3 children. He and Elaine have five children themselves.

Oh, and Scott kind of looked like Johnny Depp, which was interesting. Elaine was quite attractive also. The children must be beautiful.

Anyway, the fine buffet dinner was followed by some of the briefest wedding toasts I’ve ever heard in my life, then the first dance (which Elaine said Beth was really nervous about, but she did fine), then general dancing. D-J was good, playing a variety of music, and Jean and I got to practice the few jive moves we still remember. (We’ve actually signed up for dance classes in the new year, to get some of that refreshed.)

A few more quirky touches I enjoyed: Having jars of various types of candy (tootsie rolls, M&Ms, rock candy, that sort of thing) available for “the kids” to bag—then watching the many “big kids” also indulge once the smaller ones were done. And getting a demonstration of hula-hoop technique from one of Beth’s friends. Quite impressive, actually—though we didn’t quite catch on video.

Eventually I did get to talk to Beth, and her Mom, a bit more, which was good. And I got photographic proof of the meeting:

Cathy and Beth

Heading back

We had taken the Monday off, giving us two days to head back, which was nice. So we had a leisurely departure after breakfast, where we saw Rick and Beth one more time. We’d considered various routes, but finally settled on going back up the same way, through Ohio, but heading in through Windsor this time, in order to visit the Pelee Island region a bit (without actually going on that island).

The drive went fine. No weather issues, and the only somewhat hairy part was finding the border crossing in Detroit. That was complicated a bit by construction, so the GPS instructions couldn’t be followed exactly. Once we’d found ourselves, we were amused by all the signs saying “Following the detour signs; not your GPS instructions.”

We used Billy’s Best Bottles from last year as a guide, and stopped in Amherstburg first. We stayed in a little motel, which was older but fine, and had a really good dinner at a place called Caldwell’s Grant, that specializes in local cuisine. While there we had a moment of concern when Jean’s sister called him on his cell phone, as that was an unusual thing to do. Eventually it turned out that while Jean’s Mom was in hospital, it wasn’t a heart attack as they had feared earlier, but something much less serious. So they wanted to get in touch to basically tell him not to worry. (He also spoke to his Mom.)

(When we did get home, we had 10 messages from various siblings, all fairly vague on the reasons why they were calling…)

The next day we visited some wineries. The first we stopped at was D’Angelo. Though their website said they opened at 10:00, they weren’t open when we got there around 10:45. We later found out we can’t taste wine before 11:00 anyway, though. So no iced Foch for us.

Next, after almost despairing of locating it, we did get to Sanson, which was open. We tried a few wines here, then bought two bottles each of our favorites, which were the Sauvignon Blanc and the Baco Noir. They also had some organic meats on offer, and we bought some of those.

She recommended Viewpointe winery to us, so we went there next. That’s a beautiful site which must be a great place to picnic at in the summer. This time of year, we were the only ones there. We came out of here with four bottles as well: two of the Auxerrois, a white usually used in blends, that has an interesting floral flavor, and the Cabernet Merlot.

Finally, we visited Mastronardi, whose wines we’d enjoyed at Caldwell’s Grant the night before.  And here we left with seven bottles: two Gewurtz (in a more off-dry style), two Cabernet Franc, one Merlot, one Syrah (more of a French style), and a very nice sparkling wine.

But that was enough! Next business was lunch, but that proved a bit tricky, as many restaurants are closed on Monday. We finally ended up at a “family” restaurant in Leamington. Though that term tends to make me leery, they actually did a find job of the sandwiches we had. The drive home was a bit dreery with fog, but went fine. We got in around 5:00.

So it was a nice getaway, and although not an intense first meeting, it was good to finally have one after 30 years! Maybe we won’t wait quite so long for the next. (And maybe, just maybe, I’ll even get on Facebook so we can keep in a bit more regular touch that way.)


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And the rest of the weekend was pretty great, too

The day after the concert, began with breakfast at the Day’s Inn, which turned out to be rather better than these continental hotel breakfasts usually are, thanks to the available waffle batter and waffle iron. They did run out of coffee, but we were able to save that one by making a pot in our room afterward.

After checking out, and getting the word of mouth that general notices on the concert were good, we headed to the hottest spot in Ontario—the Flu Clinic! Seriously, we decided to go see if Orillia flu clinics were being run any better than Waterloo Region ones. And boy, were they ever. Very short lineup, everyone in it quickly assessed as to whether they qualified (Jean did, as a healthcare worker; I didn’t even try—I do have some morals), given a time to expect their shot. In our case it was so soon, and the weather was so fine, we just stayed in line until it was done. The whole thing, including the 15-minute after-shot wait, took half an hour, 40 minutes, maybe.

Oh, and Jean had no after-effects from the shot, other than the expected sore shoulder muscle.

After that triumph, we headed to downtown Orillia to see what might be interesting there. We spent some time in a kitchen store (weirdly, perhaps, Jean likes kitchen gadgets as much as I do—maybe even more), and got ourselves a few things, and some Christmas stuff. We also traded casino concert stories with the owner, who had apparently seen a very awesome Santana show there. (Actually, it did sound great.)

Next was a clothing store that had some used, some consignment, some remainder items. So really great prices, and stuff for both men and women. Jean tried on this leather jacket that fit him really well. And this almost never happens—he’s just not an “off the rack” size. So at $19.99, that was pretty hard to resist, so we didn’t. He also got a leather belt, while I picked up three tops. The grand total was under $60.

It was around lunchtime at this point, and we were hungry, so we decided to go to the “restaurant in a train” place that we’d been to on our last visit to Orillia (to buy the tickets). We had the same waitress! It was an enjoyable enough meal. In particular, my scallop appetizer, in chili and cocoa, was quite nice, and Jean enjoyed his main of lake trout (or some local-ish fish like that).

We now figured it was a reasonable enough time to head toward Singhampton, where we had bed and breakfast and dinner reservations. The drive was just fine, and we had spotted the B&B on the way up, so no trouble finding it. It’s called the Avalon, and while not the cheapest B&B ever, it’s really nice accommodations. You get a whole downstairs (not basement) area to yourself, with huge windows onto a beautiful view. The owner also toured us around most of the rest of the 5000 square foot house, all very open and festooned with stained glass. And interestingly, it uses geothermal heat (and cooling).

The grounds are also huge, and we took a little walk around those next, and got some photos (as above). Then it was nap time, as neither of us had slept that well the night before. Then up to get ready for dinner at Haisai.

This would be Michael Stadtlander’s new, cheaper (though certainly not cheap) restaurant. And the room is very characteristic of him and his wife Noboyu, with a crazy festooning of pottery and all natural wood furniture. Noboyu recognized us from our stop in August and generally made us feel comfortable. We were a bit surprised to see that the restaurant was not sold out on this Friday; it was maybe two-thirds full. And they were having fireplace issues, so it was a little cool in there.

But, everyone wants to know about the food right? It was a 10-course tasting menu. I made a point of writing down what we had that night.

  1. Single New Brunswick oyster—I forget how seasoned. But very nice.
  2. Smoked hock (from their farm, smoked for six months) on whole-wheat bread made there. The meat had really lovely taste and texture not quite like any other “ham” kind of thing I’ve had before. (And I do mean that in a good way.)
  3. Jerusalem artichoke soup with shallots and smoked pickerel. This man is really a soup genius; I couldn’t believe the creamy, wonderful taste and the contrast with the shallots. You almost didn’t need the fish.
  4. Georgian Bay lake trout (caught that day) in wasabi butter with blue potatoes. Definitely a highlight, the fish was meltingly good, and the sauce was so amazing, it was difficult not to lick the plate after. And the potatoes tasted pretty remarkable, too.
  5. White fish on a sauce of beet, chervil, and carrot, with spinach puree. Also a great combination of flavors.
  6. Salmonberry (or maybe some other kind of berry?) sorbet on wild apple. He’s also quite good with the sorbet.
  7. Roast piglet with wild mushrooms and cabbage. The meat was mouth-watering. Mmm, fat. Of course the mushrooms were good, but the cabbage also tasted just amazing. Because, I think, it was cooked in the mmm, fat.
  8. Duck breast with roasted carrot, squash, turnip, parsnip, and a squash ravioli. The most interesting thing here is that the duck,while good, was actually the least of this plate. These vegetables tasted amazing.
  9. Three kinds of Ontario cheese—goat, sheep, and gouda—served with pear and walnut cranberry bread. Ontario, it turns out, also makes good cheese.
  10. Tarte tatin with rum ice cream.

The new restaurant has a wine list, all Ontario. We enjoyed our first five courses with a lively Frog Pond Riesling, then switched to a glass each of Stratus Red. That’s an expensive wine, but it did taste fantastic. We have a bottle here, and now I’m dying to open it. With dessert, we had Earl Grey and mint tea, both well above average.

We came in quite hungry, and ended feeling satisfied but not stuffed, which is perfect. And we slept really well that night.

Onto Saturday now, which began with the breakfast part of the B&B. While we’d met the wife more the day before, today it was the husband who sat and talked with us while we ate our apple starter, delicious coffee, fresh baguette, and frittata. He was quite an interesting guy. He told us about how they’d ended up moving from Toronto to this location, the whole process of designing and building the house extension, the mechanics of geothermal.

They made Creemore sound like an interesting little town, so we decided to head there after checking out. And it is pretty cute. We spent some time in a bookstore, and I wanted many things, but decided I really needed to catch up on my reading first. At an antique store, we bought new stools for our breakfast bar—not antiques, those, they were new. They do look a bit snazzier. (Can’t say we’re not doing our bit for the Ontario economy.) And at the 100-mile shop, we bought a bunch of Ontario cheese, including some we’d had the night before. Fifth Town Cheese Company from Prince Edward County—try them out.

Then we headed home, so you might think this travel diary is done, but no… We decided to keep it going.

That night, we ate out at Art Bar. Once again, the food was quite good, holding up surprisingly well to our recent experience at Haisai. But once again, we seemed to be left fairly close to curtain time. I still don’t understand why they have such trouble getting us out in two hours. But anyway…

We had tickets to Cirque de la symphonie, which was the KW Symphony playing various pieces while, during most of them, circus performers did their thing. This was riveting! I couldn’t believe how fast the two hours (or so) went by. Particularly notable was this beautiful trapeze artist who did a really spectacular set on a rope in the second half. And then there was the gorgeous man who did this act with a big square (I find this stuff hard to explain) in the first half, then, shirtless, did this Icarus act in the second, jumping and flying around with a white sheet flapping behind him.

And the finale were these two guys, all in gold, one of whom can balance on the other and get into the most amazing poses. OK, my whole description of these performances sucks, but trust me, they were wonderful to see. (And thankfully, the Centre was very full for this show.)

Anyway. We both ended up very satisfied with this little November getaway. And Jean also had a great paddle (canoeing) on Sunday. It was a beautiful day, wasn’t it?