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Vieni wines

Not taking our usual Spring trip this year has given us a bit of restlessness, I think. Hence, a couple weeks ago, my comment that were out of rosé and low on “everyday reds” inspired us to take a road trip to Beamsville wine country, rather than just amble over to our local LCBO.

Our first stop was Aure wines, where the attendant recognized us immediately, despite our having been there exactly 1 (one) time before, in October. (Mind you, we did stay for a long chat and lunch that time.) They have a small wine list, and didn’t have too much new for us try, other than a Chardonnay that purchased a bottle of.

We did get a preview taste of the upcoming Viognier release, though, and it will be really nice. Jean also stocked up on some of the Pinot Blanc he enjoys (though at the rate he’s currently drinking it, our five bottles could last five years).

They were not serving lunch, however, so we headed over to The Good Earth winery for that. It being Sunday, they had a brunch menu, which I wasn’t entirely in the mood for. I ordered the strata, which seemed the least breakfast-y option. It was quite tasty.

Good Earth Winery and Bistro

Jean enjoyed his mushroom and poached eggs option.

Good Earth Winery and Bistro

Nice, bright room at Good Earth; welcome on a rainy day

While there, after dining, we tried a few wines. They don’t have a very big offering, their philosophy being to see what grape works best in any given year and run with it. As an illustration, we tried the 2013 and 2014 Cabernet Franc wines: same grape, same vineyard, but really different taste—the 2013 being more to ours. We also got a bottle of their Big Forks Red, which they describe thusly:

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None of this was helping with our rosé shortage, though, so we then went to Vieni Estates. This relatively new winery has a very different approach than the other two, in that they offer many different types of wines: red, white, rosé, sparkling, cider, ice, and spirits.

Befitting their name—vieni means welcome in Italian—they were very friendly, calling us over quickly despite it being rather busy when we arrived. They also don’t charge for or limit tastings, so you have to control yourself. Which we were only semi-successful at.

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The Vieni tasting room: Photo from their website

The first suggestion was that we try a sparkling, but we actually had a rather good stock of sparkling on hand at the time. Nevertheless, we had to admit their Canada 150 was really different—a red sparkling that tasted off-dry despite being extra-dry. Kind of neat and just $17, so we got a bottle of that.

Fortunately, we did find their Alleria Rosé quite nice as well. Along with their Sauvignon Blanc, a Ripasso, and the Alleria Red, which is a blend of Cabernet, Baco Noir, and Marechel Foch. They have many more options that we could try on another trip. They also sell some food items, such as olive oil, which you can also taste upon request (which we did, and it was good, and now we have a bottle of that, also).

While it’s not the Rhone, Tuscany, or Napa, Beamsville did help us scratch the travel itch. At least for a day.


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Holidays

The Timmins evacuees arrived and departed in waves: first to get there were Jean and I, the evening of December 22; then my older sister, Joanne, followed shortly by my younger sister Michelle and her family, on December 24. Boxing Day was the first departure, by Jo; then Jean and I drove back on December 27; then Michelle’s family flew back the following day. Some small departure delays due to weather and a bit of a close call getting through the very crowded luggage drop-off at Pearson were the extent of the travel issues.

The influx of people made gave my Dad some stress in keeping us all fed and finding everyone a place to sleep, but it all worked out. It helps that Dad’s a very good cook, and yes, we all pitched in with grocery shopping, baking, food prepping, and cleaning up. Michelle and Jackson kindly volunteered to sleep on couches the two busiest nights, so no one had to check into a hotel.

Big Guy!

Even Santa was helping with the food

The 23rd we had a great visit with our Timmins friends (all two!) and Christmas Eve offered a succession of family Réveillons.

Only the Kid's can get this exited about Christmas

Lefebvre great-nieces excited for Santa

Santa!

Père Noël appreciates the adulation

The little gift exchange theme this year was “ornaments”. Jean’s made the biggest splash: He Etsy’d his own ornaments starting with old photos of his siblings, converted into luggage tags then ribbon’ed by hand. My contribution of ornaments made by Peruvian artisans landed well with Jean’s sister, who had just returned from a trip there. Jean ended up with these rather cool bird ones.

The facets' of Christmas!

New ornaments for our tree

Christmas morning at McNair’s we did the stealing game again. This was after much email discussion, during which we’d decided that each person would get an age-appropriate gift. Of course, the kids don’t really do their own shopping for this.

My brother, for whom there is time like the last minute, was copied on all emails but didn’t really dig into them until about Christmas Eve, when he was off to do his shopping. He checked with Michelle: “I have to buy gifts for my own kids?” he asked. “Really?”

Yes, really.

This didn’t really work out with Sarah-Simone, though, who—even after “her” present was available—simply couldn’t resist going to the pile of presents to try again after some adult  kindly “stole” the present she had. Even though, as she pointed out, most of the presents “sucked” for a 10-year-old.

Her package :)

Another gift not entirely suitable to its recipient…

Things eventually got sorted through final trades.

The Stealing Game :)

Or in my case, earlier, by stealing this fine wine collection from my brother

Jean ended up with the item I had contributed, a coffee infuser. It’s not fast, but it does make a nice smooth brew!

We also got out for some snow shoeing on this gorgeous winter day.

Winter Wonderland!

Jean and my brother-in-law went again on the less-pleasant Boxing Day, coming back with a harvest of chaga tea (which looks like dirt mounds, but you clean it and brew it and it’s apparently full of anti-oxidants. Pretty mild-tasting.)

Slaying the dragon and making off with the Chaga!

Slaying the dragon

The days between Christmas and New Year’s, Jean worked while I sat around and ate bonbons.

Not really. (Well, maybe a few bonbons.)

New Year’s Eve, we returned to The Berlin, one year after first going, for their four-course dinner. City buses are free that night, so we decided to travel that way. We did the whole route-planning thing on the transit website, and found the perfect trip. As long as all buses were exactly on time.

However, the first one was three minutes late, meaning we missed our transfer by about two minutes. And faced a 28-minute wait, 30 minutes before our reservation.

Fortunately, seeing our expression, the bus driver asked where we wanted to go, then helped us get there. Her route had another stop with a downtown connection. We had very little wait for that bus, and we were arrived at the restaurant just five minutes late, so all good.

New Year's Eve Menu

We sat in view of the kitchen for the first time, which was pretty interesting. (And not only because chef Jonathan Gushu is kind of a babe.)

The Kitchen Crew

It was busy night there, of course, but everything we had was just delicious, and the wine pairings were creative and uniformly excellent. Service was a bit scattered at times—running off with menus before actually finding out what we wanted each course, for example (“I can’t believe I did that”, he said)—but generally they have their timing down now. (We just have to accept it’s not as luxuriously paced as Verses used to be.)

Eying my Roe!

Amazing starter

As appetizers, I had the lobster ravioli and Jean the terrine.

Terrine - Pulled Pork and Foie Gras mmmmmmmmm!

To cleanse the palate, they gave us a pineapple sorbet in sparking wine.

Pinnaple Granite in some bubbly :)

Then it was duck all around, with a really interesting Italian wine, that not everyone got (we’re special 🙂 ).

Duck Breast and Ragout, with Honey Mushrooms and Heart Nuts served with a great pairing wine from the Canary Islands

And Jean concluded with the pear dessert, I the hazelnut nougatine (with a vermouth). We also received a touch more dessert for the road.

Hazelnut Nougatine!

We took a taxi home. 🙂


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Things more Christmas-y

As my seasonal gift to you all, I will set aside the “political update” blog post I’ve been puttering away at and instead write about things more Christmas-y.

Though in the same province, my home town is far from where I live now. (Even Canadians get surprised at how far apart two cities in the same province can be.) Though we try to get there for Christmas, that’s normally the extent of the winter travelling to the north.

This year, however, we were lured there a mere two weeks before Christmas by Jean’s Mom celebrating her 90th birthday. She’s doing rather well!

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Gosh, I think I took this photo. Yay, me.

Also occurring around the same date were my Dad and my brother’s birthdays, so while at it, we celebrated those as well.

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The combined ages of the two birthday boys

A snowstorm in the southern part of the province delayed our arrival back home (by plane) til the next morning, but it was a nice visit.

Being away for an extra December weekend meant condensing the amount of Christmas cooking I did, both in terms of time and quantity. (It also meant even more online gift shopping than usual.) This past Saturday I made my single tourtière, using a recipe that is now traditional to me, though not to the rest of my family. I was unable to find the ground bison that I usually combine with the ground chicken, so I tried lamb instead.

The distinctly lamb-y smell of it made me worried while preparing the dish, but in the end, it really didn’t overwhelm everything. And the crust turned out quite remarkably flaky and delicious.

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Tastes better than it looks!

Sunday was when Jean and I celebrated “our” Christmas. I decided to roast a duck, not having done that in a while. I’m amazed by how many people are totally intimidated by the idea, when it’s really the same principle as cooking a chicken: stuff  the bird if you want, then put it in a roasting pan in the oven at 350 or so until it reaches 165 F. Only real difference is where a rack in the roasting pan might be optional with chicken, you really want to use one with duck, because so many fat drips out of it. You don’t want your bird floating in it.

For the duck, I consulted a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved stuffing it with ginger, rhubarb, and sage, then serving it with a broth / red wine (didn’t have masala) sauce and crisped sage on top. As sides, I made roasted Brussels sprouts with apple while Jean handled the mashed potatoes. It made for a delicious combination of food in the end.

Duck, Brussel Sproutss, and Mashed Potatoes!

Serving it with 2010 Chateau-neuf-du-pape didn’t hurt, either

For dessert I cobbled together a nice-looking tray (if I do say so myself) of items mostly not made by me:

Desert Tray

As tasty as it looks!

The sucre à crème in the forefront was my doing (sugar, sugar, and cream: with a little butter, because why not). But the rum balls were a (homemade) gift. And the ginger cookies were President’s Choice. All rounded out with some foil-wrapped chocolates.

Happy holidays, everyone.


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Aure wines

Last weekend we had to go to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a work event of Jean’s. We were put up in a historic hotel, taken on a wine tour, then had dinner and evening of live jazz.

Poor us. 🙂

So, I know, but the fact is we didn’t really feel like going, for whatever reason—maybe because we weren’t long back from our New York / Montreal trip.

But, such circumstances do have a way of putting one in a better mood. The Queen’s Landing hotel was quite attractive. Tawse winery, maker of fine though somewhat pricey wine, is interesting to tour, what with their hand-pick / organic / gravity-fed philosophy. And, we had a beautiful Fall day for that—20° C!

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Interior of the Queen’s Landing hotel—photo from their website

Dinner was fine—good conversation, decent food. Room acoustics made the jazz band a little loud for conversation, so we eventually got up the nerve to take to the dance floor. Being the only ones there able to dance that type of music, we had plenty of room to slow fox, quick step, tango, and jive.

Other than the included breakfast, we were done with corporate events the next day. The weather had taken a turn to the rainy, though, so that kiboshed any thoughts of hiking or ambling Niagara-on-the-Lake’s downtown.

But, it was fine for more wine tasting. We first stopped at Pillitteri Estates, earner of some good Google reviews, and one we hadn’t been to previously. It does make for pleasant visit. They have a food store section featuring nice jams, vinegars, ice wine chocolates, and such. And their wines are quite respectable, of the food-friendly and modestly priced type. We especially liked the Gewurztraminer Riesling blend, the Pinot Gris, and the Cabernet Merlot.

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Aure wine tasting room, from Uncorked Ontario

But Aure wines in Beamsville, picked out because I liked their description in the Wine Country Ontario app, was the best discovery. We were the only visitors at that time, so had plenty of time to discuss the four whites and four reds we tried—which is about everything non-reserve they have. I quite liked their blends, but they do an especially good job with grapes less commonly used—Viognier and especially Pinot Blanc and Marechal Foch, their best-seller. And most are priced under $20.

We also had lunch there, which they offer tapas-style. Very good squash soup, pork chorizo stew, grilled vegetables, and cheese plate. With lunch we each tried a glass of their reserve wine, which you can do for $9. The “wild fermented” Chardonnay was crazy good, very rich.

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Aure winery restaurant—picture from their website

So we returned from our arduous journey laden with wine and lighter in spirit.


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Let’s go to the Ex (whoa, baby)

When I expressed the desire to squeeze in a final summer holiday, Jean suggested Toronto as a place we could get to quickly enough to have time to enjoy with only minimal time off work (I took half a day).

“Hey, the Ex is on then,” I exclaimed. “Can we go?”

“Uh, I guess,” Jean replied, a bit mystified by my interest.

“The Ex” is the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual late-summer fair held in Toronto lo these past 138 years. Neither of us had ever been.

When I was a youngster back in Northern Ontario (from where one could not get to Toronto very quickly), the Ex seemed like coolest thing, based on ads like these:

The classic 1982 Let’s Go to the Ex commercial, with the cow

As an adult, admittedly, it seemed more like a site of cheesy entertainment and appalling-sound junk food (see: The Straight-Up Craziest Stuff To Eat At This Year’s CNE In Toronto). But, partly inspired by The Globe’s A guide to Toronto’s 2016 CNE, from someone who has been every year of her life, I thought we should check it out for ourselves. At least once in our lives.

Getting there was the first challenge. We aren’t experts on Toronto Transit, but the CNE grounds were too far for our usual “we’ll just walk there” approach to getting around in that city. The CNE website clearly listed the best transit options, but that didn’t stop us from messing up: Confusing the Dundas West subway stop(which had a direct bus to the CNE) with Dundas one (which did not). Taking a while to figure out that the “street” car stop at Union Station is not actually on the street, but below ground. And then some confusion about whether we were taking the street car in the right direction.

So we were well ready for lunch by the time we got there, and headed straight to the Food Building. We munched on completely un-weird fish and chips (Jean) and fish tacos (me), but when we walked around afterwards looking for things like the Bug Bistro and the philly sandwiches with whipped cream, we couldn’t find them. It pretty much seemed like any other food court.

Mind, we were rushing through a bit as we (well, I) wanted to get a seat at the popular ice skating and aerial acrobatics show. It featured Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. She indeed did a lovely solo, but I was actually more impressed with some of acrobatics, and from seeing two male ice skaters skate together. And it seemed a bit rude that they didn’t introduce any performers other than Joannie.

Much of the CNE grounds is a really big midway / fair sort of thing, with rides and games. We didn’t partake of that part at all, beyond walking through it. We had planned to Ferris wheel together, but Jean got a bit overwhelmed with the crowds in those parts.

Instead, we visited a few exhibitions spaces—the farm, arts and hobbies, kitchen stuff (my favourite)—and concluded the day with the (also very popular) Superdogs show. That was so cute and fun, all these different types of dogs doing tricks or playing the clown. Was probably the day’s highlight.

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One of the Superdogs–from Toronto.com

After the Ex

The new Where to Eat in Canada had arrived just before this trip, so we took the opportunity to visit a couple of the listed places. We met some friends for dinner at Origin. I had been a bit pushy on this suggestion, despite never having been, so was relieved to find that:

  • The place was quiet enough for conversation
  • The food was very good
  • The prices weren’t outlandish

It’s one of those places with more of a tapas focus, and the servers were very good about helping us through our selections and bringing out items in a sensible order. We had the devilled eggs, a couple items from the raw (sushi) bar, a mozarella-based appetizer, a kale salad, and crispy calamari. (Who needs meat?)

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This kale salad was freakin’ delicious

The next day went to the ROM ahead of our reservation at Cafe Boulud. We had forgotten, however, that we were just there in February, and basically remembered the regular collection enough that we didn’t feel the need to look at it again. They had a Chihully exhibit, but having also been to his gallery in Seattle recently, we didn’t feel inclined to pay extra for that. Fortunately, we were saved by being time for a tour of their Egyptian collection, which was really interesting!

Cafe Boulud is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant in a chi-chi poo-poo hotel. We were there for brunch, which is one of the cheaper ways of partaking in it ($45 for two courses with coffee). The wines by the glass were almost as expensive as bottles are in some others places, so we stuck with the $9 mimosa.

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Berries tartine and soupe de mais (corn soup) with our mimosa

The food was quite good, though, excluding Jean’s duck confit being more salted than he cared for. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Gorditas de papa con chorizo, but I quite enjoyed it.

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This is Gorditas de papa con chorizo

The rest of the day we wandered the streets of Toronto, the predicted rain never quite materializing. It was quite warm, so we stopped regularly for beverages of the non-alcoholic variety. We saw street fests and visited some favourite stores and burnt off restaurant calories.

On to Fall.


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Ottawa getaway

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

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The Rideau canal area of Ottawa

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

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

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

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

Celeriac and Coconut Soup

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

Pork Belly Crepes

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

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

Strawberry and Sorbet

Strawberries and chocolate with sorbet

Maple Meringue

Which were almost as good as the maple semifreddo

Saturday we ambled around the uptown in the morning.

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One of the sights we took in

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

Charc Plate
In the afternoon we visited the National Gallery.

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Outdoor exhibit

Queen Bee!

Indoor exhibit

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

Foie Gras Torchon at Signatures

Jean had the mousse de foie de canard

And I the escargots au pastis et tomates.

Something at Signatures

Then I ordered the cabbage-wrapped trout with dill chips

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

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

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

Fried Halibut Taco

Lovely fish tacos at Sidedoor

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


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Vacation photo count: Low

The nature of our week-long Ontario getaway—combined with some unseasonable August weather—meant that the number of photos Jean took was much lower than usual. Good thing we went to Science North in Sudbury, or it would otherwise have been close to a count of zero.

Science North building

The Science North building is itself very interesting, built right onto the rock of Sudbury

Flowers overlooking the lake in Science North

It was a gray day in Sudbury, so a good one to be inside a museum

We weren’t the only ones with that thought, though; Science North was crazy full of parents and their kids!

Butterfly close-up from Science North

The butterfly room was a nice, calm oasis away from the crowds

We probably spent the most time on the floor focusing on wildlife. We were there late afternoon, which happened to be feeding time for a lot of the critters.

Porcupine at Science North

If you’ve ever wanted to pet a porcupine, Science North is the place for you

Skunk feeding at Science North

The skunk was too shy for petting, especially with all the kids there that day, but couldn’t resist coming out for meal worms

Beaver feeding at Science North

The beaver was nonplussed by his audience, and a big fan of green beans

And to conclude, the now almost obligatory photo of me in front of food, at Churchill’s restaurant in North Bay (another day, on the way back).

Ahi tuna at Churchill's Restaurant in North Bay Ontario

Lovely ahi tuna