Cultureguru's Weblog

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


Doing stuff on the weekend

Been having a number of fairly unscheduled weekends of late, which generally suits me, but last weekend I did get out of house a number of times. And survived!


Willibald is a distillery and restaurant located in the nearby small town of Ayr. We’d been hearing about it for a while—including one claim that it was as good as our beloved Verses—and finally had dinner there with friends last Friday.

It’s in a pretty cool space, with some communal tables that they divide up with table decorations, so you don’t quite feel as though you’re dining with strangers. We got a bit of a history of the place from our waitress. It started as a whisky distillery, and they more recently added gin. The restaurant has been open about two years.

Chateau Pentus wine at Willibald
The night’s wine selection, and the plant that divided up the table, over to the left

None of their whisky was available (it’s aging(, but I decided to try one of their gin cocktails. Made with pink gin, ipa, ginger, balsamic, lemon, and mint, it was very good—but I think the gin was fairly disguised.

Wine is a relatively recent addition to their menu. As a distillery, they previously thought they wouldn’t offer wine (save one house red and white), but when they decided to have an Italian-themed winter menu, adding wines seemed apropos. We got a bottle of Champs Pentus, which is a GSM, but from the Languedoc region rather than the Rhone—making it a cheaper option.

Normally their food menu has a focus on local and fresh, but since the pickings are slim on that front this time of year, the menu was built around pastas and pizzas. We had the sourdough foccacia, rigatoni with pork ragu, and cavatelli with butternut squash, pancetta, sage, and walnut. So a real carb-a-palooza! But everything was very good. And the wine suited nicely.

Shannon, Cassidy, and Cavatelli
The Cavatelli

For dessert (why stop with the carbs now?), I was intrigued by the olive oil gelato and the limoncello sorbet, so we tried both. Both nice, with the olive oil gelato the winner overall.

At the end of the meal, the waitress said that we were the “fancy” table and that they were trying to impress us, because they want more customers of our ilk. What made us “fancy” was ordering that whole bottle of wine, and one of us getting a cheese plate for dessert. Funny!

But she can rest assured that we do plan to try it again. It might not have been Verses-good, but it was still quite good (and not Verses-expensive). It would be cool to see what they put together with the seasonal produce, when they have it. I hope they retain some wines…

Choir! Choir! Choir!

Choir! Choir! Choir! are a Toronto-based duo who gather amateur singing enthusiasts together and teach them to sing a popular song in choral harmony. They are crazy popular over here in Ontario.

This was my second time joining in on their performances. I probably didn’t report on it the first time, but we did Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. And I enjoyed it enough to be willing to go again.

I’m in this crowd of singers somewhere!

This time the song was Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. Both times were at Centre in the Square, but this time, instead of having us all up on an extended stage, the two guys were on the smaller stage, and we filled the auditorium. And I do mean filled—it was completely sold out.

The evening lasted around two hours, and we did not spend the whole time working on the one song. To warm up, we did some quickie run-throughs of other Abba songs—”Fernando”, “Take a Chance on Me”, and “SOS”, and to close out, we got “The Winner Takes It All” and “Dancing Queen”. (No “Waterloo”, despite the repeated requests—including very loudly by one woman right behind one person in our party of six.)

Really focusing on Abba lyrics, you see dark and desperate they really are: When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on? / I’ve been angry and sad bout the things that you do. / If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down. Last time we finagled ourselves into position to sing the main melody line; this time we couldn’t move around, so had to tackle the high harmonies—for most of the song. At one point that switched. But, it was an interesting challenge, though one that gave me a sore throat by the end of the evening.

And, it certainly wasn’t all Abba. Other warm-up songs were Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (yay!) and Madonna’s “Vogue”. And throughout the evening, there were random break-out singalongs, including “Backstreet’s Back”, “Ring of Fire”, “One Week”, excerpts from Sound of Music, and a suggestion that maybe a Grease night would be fun—only to lead into the lamest song of that soundtrack, “Sandy”. Along with a bit of mocking of Gordon Lightfoot (so don’t expect a Choir! Choir! Choir! version of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” anytime soon).

I found it all quite fun. I’d maybe even do it again.

Snowshoeing (despite limited snow)

Jean was determined to go snowshoeing on Sunday, despite us getting less than the forecast amount of snow. He found five of us willing to go along, though we were all a bit dubious.

We went to the Elora Gorge. Normally when we snowshoe here, we can do so on the frozen-over water. This year, that was not an option!

Running water of the Elora Gorge
Not a snowshoe trail

Instead we had to walk along the cliff edge, on a mix of ice, snow, and dirt… Which presented some challenges.

"Snowshoeing" the cliffs of Elora

Still, it was pretty… And did give a sense of accomplishing… something.

Elora Gorge in winter


And couldn’t resist posting this lovely portrait.

Gus the cat
Your reward for making it to the end of this post

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Not cursing the snow

The day we were to drive to Bondi Village near Algonquin Park happened to be the day of the biggest snowfall of the year (so far!). Even though buses, schools, universities, highways and even malls! (by the end of the day) were cancelled and closed, Jean never seemed deterred from going. Even after shoveling twice. And discovering the car had a bit a low tire. (We just added air.) Even so. Off we went.

The bonus of so much closing and cancelling was that the roads were unusually free of cars. And, you know, it was just snow—not freezing rain, not whiteout conditions (at least on the roads we took). It was a somewhat longer journey than usual, of course. We took a leisurely lunch, but otherwise just focused on making our way there. And it all went fine. The tire even held. And still is. (Very slow leak, I guess.)

This was a Canoe Club trip, and we were supposed to be joining 20 other people. We arrived to find 2. A couple more made their way shortly after us, three more later that evening, than two more overnight. The rest all bailed for various reasons, one being weather, of course! So we were 11: the smallest number in years for this winter club trek, I’m told.

Those who did make it, though, were rewarded the next day with the best possible weather:

Winter scene in Algonquin Park

We took advantage to do some snowshoeing in Algonquin Park. We chose the Track and Tower trail, which offers a nice variety of vistas, including waterways.

Frozen rapids

We were five, and Jean talked us into including the 4 km (or so) extension that brought us up to a lovely viewpoint.

Foxicle at the Lookout

Mascot Foxicle modeling the view

The whole thing was about 10 km, and as the day heated up (to -5) while we were still dressed for the morning’s -15, it made for a tiring walk back. One of us was to0 tired to chew!

The traditional pot luck dinner was rejuvenating, though. Despite the diminished numbers, we somehow still had a good balance of sides, mains, and desserts. We made a slow cooker minestrone that turned out really well.

Slow cooker minestrone

Not sure it looks so great here, but the soup was a hit

In fact, Jean was rejuvenated enough that he went snowshoeing again at night! He was determined to try to take pictures of the stars, and convinced some others to join him on a “midnight” walk (though it was really more like 8:30 pm). He and I mutually agreed that it would be best that I not join him. And that way we both had a good evening.

Starlit night

It was a moonless night; they had to make their way largely by feel

Sunday was another nice day. We had only the morning for activities, so we stayed on the Bondi property for snowshoeing. We had a nice time, but didn’t see any notable wildlife. Some of the others did, though.



Photo by Andrea Chappell

Sunday lunch featured the potluck leftovers, just as good the second time out, then we cleaned up and shipped out for a smooth drive home.

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Winter weather, winter tires

I’ve been a convert to winter tires for some time now, but a recent episode of Marketplace comparing the performance of all season and winter tires still really struck me. How much farther the all-season car skidded before stopping, at a mere 60 k/hour. The repeated but failed attempts by the expert driver to swerve and avoid hitting a “pedestrian”, compared with the absolute ease of doing so with the winter tires.

The show also had a few facts I didn’t know. Like all season tires start to lose effectiveness at 5C. (I thought it was a little colder.) That even on bare but cold pavement, they make a big difference. That the 10% of Quebec drives who didn’t use snow tires were responsible for 38% of the accidents.

That, with this week’s weather, is making me a little stunned that only 20-30% of Ontario drivers use winter tires. The logical part of my brain understands why: It’s an initial outlay of about $650, and the fact that your all season tires will last twice as long may not be enough to make up for that. You need some place to store an extra set of tires. And it’s just a bother to have to go and get tires changed each season. (Let alone the fact that all season tires are called “all season tires”, which certainly makes you think they ought to work all year around.)

But then I keep getting distracted by thoughts like, well, what is your life worth? And the lives of other drivers? Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do. Why are you increasing the risk by driving around on hard slippery rubber?