Friday, 28 June 2013

Tour of the Neighbourhood~Hamilton Open Garden Week Highlights

Day 6 in Open Garden Week.  Visited four gardens so far and picked up some ideas along the way.  All the hosts were very welcoming; gardeners love to talk shop with other gardeners. On 'til July 2.

Specimen Garden...

Bird Feeding stations w/ ladles...


Mixed garden including "skeleton trees"...

Mixed shade & sun ...

Eclecticism alive and well...enjoyed the glass totems...



June Pen Pal Reveal

Just received my parcel 5 minutes ago! And a very fragrant parcel thanks to the sweet peppercorn rub .  Had just enough time to "stage" and take a picture.  Ali in Toronto sent something for the candy dish-peppermint/ginger chews (interesting flavor combination), tea samples, a corn cob for popping, granola bars, a muffin mix, and the rub.   Looking forward to trying everything in the coming weeks.  Thank-you, Ali.

I had the opportunity to put something together for Erin in Ottawa.  Here is what I sent...

Erin has provided some very positive feedback; here’s what she had to say...

Lisa sent a  fabulous package!
I really appreciate the effort that she put it to find a product that didn't contain fish extract. It continues to amaze me the stuff that is in some products sometimes!
The recipes are fabulous!!! I love it.
I can't wait to use the curry sauce. I LOVE Indian food.
I also can't wait to bake the welsh cake and use the jam on it.  I love baking.
I love the teas and can't wait to try them. I love all kinds of tea!
The chocolate bar looks so yummy.
I love sprinkling flax seeds and chia seeds on my yogurt.
The place cards, labels and napkins just complete the fabulous package.
All the effort was much appreciated. It's a great food package.
I love Food Pen Pals!

If you are interested in participating in a Foodie Pen Pal exchange sometime, please click on the Pen Pal icon on the side bar for all the details.*
*If  you are a UK/Europe resident, please use the following link:
FOODIE PEN PALS UK  (courtesy of

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

People Watching-Niagara on the Lake

Yes, we have no smoked salmon!  
Amongst the great questions of our time, none present so great an opportunity for debate as, “Is Afternoon Tea complete without smoked salmon sandwiches with the crusts cut off?” It had been two years since I last took Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales and the first thing to jump out at me was no salmon on the plate.  The horror!  It has been replaced by some kind of salmon puree in a frothy, cream cheese-like spread.  It was lacking in the oomph department. According to our hostess, Sandy,  they are catering to the masses who aren’t that keen on fish.  Before you think I’m blowing this completely out of proportion, I noted that the guests at the next table (all three of them) were wondering where the salmon was, also.  And, they took considerable time filling in the comment card calling for a return to this sandwich filling.
Served in the Drawing Room of the great hotel, tea is a fine treat complete with warm scone, cream & jam, pastries and the requisite egg, ham & cheese, cucumber and of course salmon sandwiches.  This is a very intimate drawing room.  Reservations are recommended and I would suggest asking for the table by the mirror- comfortable wing back chairs and a good view of the room.  Alternatively take a table in the sunroom and people-watch the crowds go by.  Go with a 3 o’clock sitting-the rush is over by then.  I like the new uniforms-black dresses and white collars. 
Things were very 19th century what with all this Edward VII watching and a Tapestry interview on the drive in about journal keepers of the 1800’s writing for posterity.  And there I was scratching away at my little black book while drinking copious amounts of tea.

Took a run over to Queenston Heights to burn off the tea.  I think most people tend to miss this during their visit to the area primarily because they can’t find the correct driveway with which to get into the place and then they wind up on the traffic circle where they get really confused.  Traffic circles still being quite an alien concept to most North Americans.  There’s lots of parkland and lots of shade.  The Brock and Secord monuments are here.  At the foot of the Brock monument, someone has placed their own memorial to Tecumseh.  (Don’t think he’s mentioned on any of the plaques, either.)  There were a number of people making the climb from Queenston proper to the Heights.  Not to be undertaken lightly.  It’s steep climb in cool conditions and I didn’t see a defibrillator anywhere.

Remember when I said don’t complain about the heat?  You did not listen to me, did you?  First you whined about the cold spring and when Summer arrives (right on schedule) you complain about the temperature.  The walk from the car to the hotel was just about bearable and I must admit I did not want to step back into the humidity.  I had found the last shady parking space so that was a bonus.  Debated whether to move at all because in addition to the regular tourists and the Shaw Festival, the Music Festival is also in full swing and that means that if you vacate your space to travel around the area you may be up the proverbial creek when you come to find a spot at show time. I would say every guest that walked in the place was thankful to be in air conditioned comfort (although the cream was struggling to keep its consistency under the conditions).  See SCONE TO JAM TO CREAM  paper for a look at the precise ratio of topping to scone required for optimum enjoyment.


Hello to our American cousins…

Note to self:  even though it’s sunset, don’t sit on a concrete bench that’s been in the sun all day.  The radiant heat will fry your backside and suck what little energy you have left.

The speed limit on the Niagara Parkway is 50 kmh.  However, the tourists drive 30 and most everyone else would be content to do 70.  Patience is tested and double yellow lines are crossed.
Time for a small jaunt through St. Marks.  Did you know about the Summer concert series?  Have a look at NIAGARA MUSIC FESTIVAL .
Requisite pre-show coffee.  2.5 inches of whipped cream atop the Frappucino.  Shudder. Two teachers grading papers in the corner.  They suspected one student of plagiarism and I got a crash course in how to prove it.  Two books to put on the list- Malcom Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw and How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore.

Full house at Major Barbara.  A play you can sink your teeth into.  Good comedy/drama mix clocking in at nigh on three hours so plan your visit accordingly. Excellent cast; lots of favourites including Benedict Campbell, Laurie Paton & Nicole Underhay.  Three cushions figured prominently.  One wouldn’t stay where it was supposed to and the cast took turns trying to prop it back up, to no avail.   
Still on caffeine high.  Starting petition to bring back smoked salmon!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Food, Father's Day & a Forty year old mini series.

Always a thrill to see your name in print.   In this case it was the Letters to the Editor. (Remember newspapers?)  Just a few lines but had to make my point.  When I see the logical road not taken, well…  Of course we have blogs and tweets to get our point across at any time of day or night and don’t have to wait for the approval of a senior editor. Although after perusing a few Twitter feeds this past week, you’re almost crying out for an editor.  I believe “train wreck” was the expression used in a recent interview.  Note to selves:  not everything has to make the journey from the brain to the keyboard.  That aside, there are some little gems out there.  Two noted tweets from this week:  getting home to find a magazine waiting for you in the mailbox (akin to an Xmas card instead of the usual bill) and the quiet Spring we’ve been having without the constant hum of air conditioners.  Amen (says the atheist).

In between bouts of what could only be described as some freak avian flu, I cobbled together letters to the editor, Food Pen Pal (FPP)packages, letters of complaint and of course Father’s Day (FD) festivities.   I may be heading down the road of some Talking Heads character-drafting one letter after another in search of a reader.  It is important to compliment others at the same time; don’t just offer up criticism.  If you see a job well done, let someone know.

FD prep began weeks ago-pick a theme, find four courses and pairings. The FPP didn’t take as long but I was faced with catering to a vegetarian and fish was off the menu.  Returned on more than one occasion to the drawing board.  Discovered my first item had fish in it so I ate it- tears streaming down my face; sinus cavity burnt out from the heat of the chilis.

Father's Day Shopping

First of two searches began in earnest; raspberry sugar for the FPP.  Fascinating introduction to product placement.  Where are Fortinos keeping their sugars?  Why, in the fresh meat section, of course. Who would have thought?  Baking aisle? Yes.   Salt & sugars? Yes.  But, not sausages.  I asked for some rationalization; none was forthcoming from the department manager.  At another location of same chain, the very idea of flavoured sugar was balked at.  I need sound and video to properly do justice to the comment I received.

Here is SOME INSPIRATION for the next time you’re struggling to come up with a menu.  Key thing is a sharp knife; you’ll be chopping for a bit of time.  (Still getting the hang of my mandoline).  All in all I think things turned out very well.  Who knew lettuce could be so filling?  Finished up with a menu of:
~Asian Mary
~Thai Lettuce Wraps
~Miso Soup w/ dumpling
~Japanese Curry
~Indian rice pudding

I did cheat on the soup.  Lost the Chinese Soup recipe and although you really cannot go wrong with this (it’s 90% chicken stock) I wanted to compare notes.  The pudding took 2 ½ hours to cook but it’s something you throw in a pan and let simmer away.  Did finish with a cappuccino.  Where was the chai or green tea, you ask?  Took a great chance on the coffee as it was Sunday night and loading up on caffeine at 20:00 could have been dangerous.  I lamented the looming work week.  The Pater was unsympathetic.  Brilliant Dilbert cartoon this week.  Dilbert is exercising in his cubicle hoping to beat the system by living long enough to enjoy at least two years retirement after forty long years under the watchful gaze of Big Brother.  Just hoping the government hasn’t pushed the retirement age further along; they’ve already added two.  Such a lack of holidays in this country.  We are third behind the US and Japan. UGH.  Let’s have some personal days, at least-my gutters and windows aren’t going to clean themselves!  Surely it’s time we moved to the four day week?  How can we be expected to recharge our battery?

Squeezed in a day off last week.  A fine “start” to the day with Tom Allan in the broadcast chair.  Trying to stream the broadcast is futile and wrestling with the clock radio is like trying to tune in a BBC world service broadcast from deep within the rain forest.  Despite my earlier sarcasm, I picked up this week’s rapid read, Apartment Therapy, because it’s like a little itch that has to be scratched.  What more could be added to this subject? I was curious.  As it turns out, not much more could be added, however, if you’re looking for some fluff for back yard reading then by all means read away.  Of course, I’m reading Trollope at the moment and a heavy duty tome it is.

While at library central, I spied a copy of Edward VII. Thirteen episodes of glorious British costume drama, circa 1973.  Never having had the chance to see it the first time ‘round, I am diligently plowing through it now.  Youthful faces abound- Felicity Kendall, Nigel Havers, Francesca Annis, Charles Dance, Derek Fowlds, Annette Crosbie and a cast of thousands.  It’s actually a good companion to the Trollope.  What a cow Victoria has been! Interesting to see how little things change with our own dear monarchy.  The wayward Prince Harry partying it up and having to take a scolding just like Bertie did.

Queen Vic in downtown Hamilton...


Back to the grind, but oh how nice to have the weekend close by.  I medicated with coffee but it had no effect.  Lethargy! Awoke Friday to the Toronto chief of Police grilling; interrogation on Rob Ford Watch.  I was driven close to madness tracking down the second product on my list, wasabi powder;  essential ingredient in the Asian Bloody Mary.  Naturally, it was on the door step the whole time.  Never underestimate your local health food store.  Wasabi was found not in the Asian, bulk or spice aisles, no;  it was practically in the pastry racks.  Is there any wonder I get confused? 

Like Thursday, I started Father’s Day with a little piano-the 26 yr old virtuoso, Yuja Wang.  Very nicely done.  Four hours of prep ahead; it's all chopping and slicing. Dinner took five hours to consume and The Pater remarked that the time flew by.  Food and beverage was enjoyed by all.  But what of the clean up?  The less said about this the better. And I’d like to know how all these food bloggers cope with dish after dish in their micro kitchens.  
Day three of leftovers, but oh what tasty leftovers! I think all the fish sauce is affecting my brain-long, vivid dreams; restless nights.  Coupled with the fierce allergy symptoms, it's a wonder I'm standing.  Apparently an untidy home is good for allergy sufferers like myself.  Dust mites can't get comfortable so there's less of them.

Burning off the dinner in the garden.  “They” keep calling for rain but we’ve had a glorious few days.   The rabbit population is growing and we are now playing host to a chipmunk.  The rabbit has moved on to shrubbery; making a fine meal of the Sand Cherry.  The Widget Maker is starting a garden and is looking for some tips; I think a separate post on easy gardening is in order.

What’s blooming now?

 Maltese Cross...




Summer due in just a few hours and we have been promised 25C.  (Thought is was Friday already-it is not; very disappointed with reality.) Off to start work on the next menu.  July 1st is close and there is a dinner and brunch to prepare. Tick tock, tick tock.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

People Watching~Toronto-June

Made the mistake of sleeping with the window cracked open. The pollens invaded and I was bug-eyed by 8AM.  Had to get the eyes deflated before the off. 

Sun was out and by noon the car was a veritable fire pit.  Smooth drive.  Enjoyed watching the lunatic in the Honda weave his way through highway traffic.  He never actually made any progress, but he did not know that.  Throwing caution to the wind, took Spadina.  What was I thinking?  The lights are not sequenced and I was psychologically unprepared for the arduous journey North.  It does afford a full half hour of people watching, though.  That's the amount of time you'll spend looking at red light bulbs.

Spadina runs the gamut from stylish coffee and chocolate shops to China Town to the University of Toronto.  Find a streetcar or meander on foot.  If time is of the essence, find another artery.  Ten Chapters still in business.  Great bookstore who, at one time, had a fair collection of old fine art postcards.  Found some nice Rembrandt's in there.

Skirted Casa Loma and neighbouring gardens and continued the climb.  Not one for trying to complete a parallel park, I opted for a municipal lot. Witnessed too many people tying up traffic trying to squeeze into a space. Coffee required; my destination was Ruelo Patisserie.  Cordon Bleu certified, I noted.  As you know, I'd sampled some macaron back in April courtesy of my Food Pen Pal.  I'd had my eye on the sesame/green tea ever since.  It did not disappoint.  Have to come back for Afternoon Tea. Take a look at these CAKES 

Young & Eglington has a good mix of everything. Must be the largest number of hair and nail shops per capita.  New shoe smell wafted out of various doorways. I did not indulge myself; as inviting as new shoes are. 

Rain came; pleased with myself for toting the umbrella around.  I was the only one and the look of surprise and disappointment on everyone's face was amusing.  I mean, you've had sufficient warning. 

Took shelter at BMV-used books and movies.  Plenty of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Clearly not a keeper.  Found a bargain, mint condition copy of Rememberance of Things Paris. Six decades of writing from the fine people at Gourmet.  Offered a bag the size of a pillowcase and the owner very carefully packaged the small book and my growing file folder of notes that I insisted on dragging around.  Looped around the block and watched a little soccer at the North Toronto Collegiate.  Drizzle didn’t seem to be hampering their efforts. Very pleased with the umbrella.  I have forgiven the individual(s) who liberated my first Totes and though I do miss the old reliable, I am growing quite fond of my new one.

A note on planters.  If you are a business that has gone to the trouble of buying the planters, the soil and the flowers, thank-you.  But, please, designate someone as keeper of the plants.  A little water will go a long way and don’t be shy about basket stuffing.  One or two marigolds in a giant container look lost.  One or two dead marigolds in a giant container speaks volumes about your business.

Made it back to the car with no additional charges.  Do you not hate to pay that next half hourly rate for thirty seconds of parking time?  Last time I was in a parking garage I somehow managed to drop the ticket down between the seats and it took an eon to retrieve it.  Have you ever seen what collects between the seats? Which brings me to The Cheese Emporium at Mount Pleasant and Eglington.  Note for next trip. 
Now many of you will balk at the idea but it was only natural to take a wander through 
Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  But this is more park or Botanical Gardens than mere graveyard.  It’s actually a beautiful spot.



Try the Mount Pleasant Self Guided Tour  See page three and four for the locations of some of our better known citizens.

The trees are tagged, there are flower gardens; people were hiking and cycling.  I covered half of it on this visit. I found myself looking at one mausoleum which was quite new and there was cough out of nowhere. Just about fainted. I realized the vault had not been sealed up and I was probably gawking at the remains of a family visitation of the newly entombed.  Faux pas, indeed.  Next to it was this memorial.



Lots of statuary in various stages of repair.



Time to head South.  First a little meander through Rosedale.  Prizes if you can find your way out of the neighbourhood in a timely manner.  Saw several properties for my next life.  Enjoyed the gardens very much.

Looks like the hired help was hard at work putting them in.  Note, you cannot make a left back on to Mt. Pleasant.  Know this to avoid looping around and around.  Came out somewhere much further East than I wanted to be but did find the site where the Garlic Festival is held every September-The Green Brick Works.  So that’s something.  Then mysteriously wound up on the other side of the future Pan Am games village.  Condos, condos everywhere. 

I had attempted to dine on Steak Tartare on my last visit to TO.  Didn’t happen.  Went to le papillon  this time and was presented with something that looked like tuna salad.  I’m always suspicious of heavily sauced meat and this was no exception.  Now it tasted fine and was beautifully presented but I wanted the blood red steak and the yolk.

And why do restaurants always bring your mains when you’re half way through your first course?  I though the French had mastered the art of taking four hours to sip a cup of coffee.  You see I was going for the garnish (an artfully sliced gherkin) and my plate was taken away.  And I was only half way through the frites, which, fortunately, were in a bowl of their own which I got to keep. I detest rushing through a meal.  Salad isn’t something that has to arrive at the table in record speed.

I’d been reading too much Gopnick and his experiences at one of the last French restaurants in New York.  There, they’ve honed the craft.  I opted for the soufflĂ©, too.  The Tartare aside, I do like this restaurant.  Had a great view of the street, the dinner guests to my right and on the wall, a mirror!  I was reminded of the Velazquez painting, Las Meninas. The couple can be seen in the mirror behind the central figures.  I had a three-sixty view. Recently listened to Kate Atkinson in a The Next Chapter interview where she talks about ‘voyeurism of the only child’.  As one, Atkinson is watching (in a good way), observing and making her mental notes.  It might explain my interest.

Observed an Elvis Presley look-alike try to manipulate a Metro shopping cart over the traffic island. Tourists stopping to take a picture of the Flat Iron building. We have become a society of food stabbers.  We’re losing the ability to handle a knife and fork at the same time.  This was in evidence out on the patio.  My seat mates included a Brit almost throwing caution to the wind and ordering a $14 Cosmo; her emphasis on the dollar figure.  Beside them, a young couple out on the town;  she was paying and guided him through the beer and wine selection. 

Strolled over to Soulpepper. The Co-Op has done a nice job with their flower beds. Tonight it was Kim's Convenience.  Korean shop owner contemplates retirement while dealing with family issues.  A good laugh, but also very poignant.   Think we all enjoyed ourselves. Perhaps things came together too well at the end?  It is a short play and you're left chomping at the bit. 

No evening could be complete without a pit stop at Wal-Mart on the drive home.  A fine people watching spot.  Out of control children, adults drifting from aisle to aisle agonizing over which deodorant to purchase or scooping up bargain priced frozen dinners.