I’m getting too old for this.

Last night wasn’t a late finisher so much as it was an early starter. Dinner at Fieramosca (with a bottle of wine), then drinks with co-workers at The Pilot, then more co-worker drinks at Volo, and finally dinner at Origin. I think our meal was good. I know it was long. The ending gets a little fuzzy. The next morning was even fuzzier.

How fortunate, then, that we were scheduled to get on a boat and cruise around in the hot sun for most of Saturday afternoon. Our friend CB had arranged a little celebration for husband GB’s birthday, so nine of us piled on a catamaran and prepared to enjoy the weather. My stomach wasn’t quite ready for that, though; the first few minutes while we were tied up made me queasy, but as soon as we were underway I felt better. A little nap below decks helped.

We reached Centre Island, had a bit of a stroll and (somewhat inadvertently) took in the sights at Hanlon’s Point Beach. Then the skipper cooked lunch, which we ate on the grass, by the water, in the sun…pretty awesome. Back on board and birthday cake in hand we set back out, cruising through the harbor and all the way around the islands. It gave me a look at parts of Toronto I’d not seen before, like the north side of Ward’s Island and a bird colony on the Leslie Street Spit. I got to relax on the deck of a boat for a few hours, a cool breeze tempering the hot summer sun. Shaky start and a little sunburn aside, it was a brilliant day.

Yeeeeeaaaaah, I need a rich friend with a boat.

Oh look, a pumpkin

The Philadelphia Flyers have just defeated my Montreal Canadiens 4-2, thus eliminating them from the playoffs and moving on to play Chicago for the Stanley Cup. It was an improbable run by the Habs, barely squeaking into the playoffs and yet knocking off the #1 regular season team (Washington) in the first round, and last year’s Cup champion (Pittsburgh) in the second. Philly manhandled them, though, shutting them out three times.

It might have been that Montreal was just exhausted after slogging their way through two consecutive 7-game series. Jaroslav Halak stopped over 500 shots in the playoffs. Their best defenseman, and maybe best player overall — Andrei Markov — was hurt in the first game of round 2, and his absence showed in the anemic power play. Ultimately, though, the Flyers did what Washington and Pittsburgh didn’t: they adjusted. The Capitals and Penguins seemed convinced that if they just kept playing the same way they had all year, their talent would come through and win the day. That played right into the Habs’ strategy, but the Flyers had none of it. They crashed the net, unlike the Caps and Pens who just talked about doing it, and Montreal coach Jacques Martin seemed unwilling to use Ryan O’Byrne on D, the one player big and strong enough to clear the crease. The Philly defense cut off the entry pass and punished the Canadiens’ small, skilled players along the wall. Mike Leighton may have recorded the shutouts, but apart from game 2 he was little better than average. The Flyers just choked the life out of the Montreal forwards.

So now the Flyers will play the Blackhawks for the finals. I will be cheering for the latter, almost as enthusiastically as I would have cheered for Montreal had they made it to the finals. Here’s why:

  1. I have come to hate the Flyers as much as the Bruins and almost as much as the Leafs
  2. I have come to hate the Flyers’ fans even more than the Flyers
  3. I like a lot of Chicago players (especially Toews) and the way they play the game
  4. Chicago has always been Nellie’s team, but she cheers for Montreal for my sake. It’s only fair I return the favour
  5. If Chicago wins, the Maple Leafs will be the team who has gone the longest without winning the Stanley Cup. My excitement at this prospect should not be underestimated

So…I’ll take a few days to recover from this heartbreak, and then…go Hawks go.

"I'm a little busy bringing down the network tonight, Bill."

Somehow this has turned into a David Strathairn weekend. For the hours I was at home I just threw on movies in the background, and three of them — Sneakers, Good Night and Good Luck and The Bourne Ultimatum — feature Strathairn. I wasn’t trying to do it. I just happened to be in the mood for those three films and there he was each time.

Maybe I should put on L.A. Confidential and Bob Roberts, just to round things out.

Best songs of 2010 so far

  • shearwater . “castaways”
  • spoon . “mystery zone”
  • hidden cameras . “he falls to me”
  • titus andronicus . “four score and seven”
  • titus andronicus . “the battle of hampton roads”
  • besnard lakes . “like the ocean, like the innocent part II”
  • frightened rabbit . “things”
  • black francis . “six legged man”
  • avi buffalo . “what’s in it for?”
  • kissaway trail . “beat your heartbeat”
  • dead weather . “gasoline”

Paddles up

I went dragon boating today. First time, probably last time. It was actually kind of fun, even if I did end up wearing more of Lake Ontario than I would have liked. Couldn’t have picked a better day though…sunny, hot and water like a pane of glass.

Not much question whether I’ll be sore tomorrow. If my shoulders could give me a look both quizzical and annoyed, they would.

Why yes, I had a nice weekend, thank you. And you?

Beerbistro patio: Weihenstephaner, Anchor Steam, Maudite. St. Louis Wings (!): 10 original buffalo and a sneak preview of Montreal’s next opponent. Slight hangover. Vet appointment: (reasonably) clean bill of health. Kittens. St. Lawrence Market. Practically the entire first season of Veronica Mars. A bottle of Southbrook Cabernet rosé. California trip planning. Cumbrae’s steaks and a bottle of 2007 Thirty Bench Cabernet Franc (the Johnny Cash wine) and Ontario strawberries. The Informant! (imdb | rotten tomatoes). Up early. Starbucks, so help me. A little work. Bier Markt: patio seats and Blanche de Chambly and two Weihenstephaner (seriously, when summer hits I just cannot pass up this beer) and lots of wurst. The dramatic conclusion of Veronica Mars season one. Desperate need for — and frustrating inability to — nap.

Now, game one of the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Be still, my yawning and yet overly nervous heart.

Currently in the 'I keep meaning to listen to these but I have no time' pile

  • avi buffalo . avi buffalo
  • band of horses . infinite arms
  • black francis . nonstoperotik
  • black keys . brothers
  • bonnie prince billy & the cairo gang . wondershow of the world
  • circa survive . blue sky noise
  • dead weather . sea of cowards
  • for a minor reflection . reistu thig vid, solin er komin a loft
  • jónsi . go
  • kissaway trail . sleep mountain
  • lcd soundsystem . this is happening
  • national . high violet
  • new pornographers . together
  • yellow swans . going places

"Better a drop of the extraordinary than an ocean of the ordinary."

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve lived in Toronto since 1997 and I’ve never seen Niagara Falls. One of the natural wonders of the world ninety minutes away and I’d never gone to see it. I’d also never visited the Niagara wine country, but that’s a little less shocking since it was only a few years ago I began to care that there was a wine region nearby. So, we thought we’d cure both ills at once. We took the day off, rented a car and set sail.

The weather wasn’t bad when we left Toronto, passing Mississauga and Oakville (first time past highway 403 woo!) and crossing the lovely skyway bridge to…to…oh my GOD Hamilton is ugly. Ugh. I closed my eyes until we reached Beamsville. We stopped there as I had it on good authority that there are three fantastic wineries there, practically next door to each other: Fielding, Hidden Bench and Thirty Bench.

As we walked into Fielding (whose tagline constitutes the subject of this blog post, by the way) Nellie said that it felt to her like going to church. We’ve never tried a Fielding wine we didn’t love, and their building is rather like a cathedral. The staff was awfully nice, very helpful and fairly convincing: we tasted nine wines, and left with bottles of the Lot 17 Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Meritage, and White Conception.

Hidden Bench, just around the corner, was different: smaller, quieter, more intimate. The lady working the tasting counter took a chunk out of her day to talk all the about the wines, the history of the winery and the vines. Their wine tasted so clean that we ended buying three bottles: a Fume Blanc (which Nellie realized later we’d drunk before) and two bottles of their Terroir Caché Meritage. We’ll drink one soon, and stash one for a few years.

We loved Thirty Bench for two reasons: the clever tasting notes (see above) and the more structured tasting. We’d enjoyed the benefits of near-empty tasting rooms at all three spots, but at 30 Bench they brought us to the comfy tasting bar and threw seven (!) samples at us. We settled on their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and left startled that we’d so far collected more red than white.

The lady at Hidden Bench had recommended a spot called August for lunch, and when a local with good taste recommends a spot for lunch, you go. We weren’t disappointed; my pasta with andouille sausage in a pesto sauce was very good, as was Nellie’s salad. Happily she was able to get a glass of Daniel Lenko white Cabernet to go with it, and I had a glass of Creekside Pinot Grigio. All was right with the world.

On we drove (don’t worry, I was sipping and spitting, not drinking) to Niagara on the Lake. We checked in to the one hotel I could find in NotL that didn’t fit the dictionary definition of “frou-frou”: The Shaw Club. Beautiful hotel, beautiful room, just top-notch all around. Highly recommended if you’re staying in that town. That town, by the way, is a little too precious…a walk up and down the main strip was like one long gift shop. On the stroll back to the hotel we decided to stop in at the Olde Angel Inn and get at least a bit of the local quaffing culture. Despite my tasty Amsterdam Two-Fisted stout, I was miserable as a headache was hitting me with both barrels. We went back to the room to relax before dinner.

Dinner was at Stone Road Grille, the de facto NotL dining champion according to Chowhound. The joint was packed when we arrived and, despite the fact that we’d made reservations a month ago, we had to wait half an hour for a table. My mood might have been soured had the host not been a bizarre combination of charming and unhinged…if I didn’t know better I’d swear he was from Newfoundland.

Anyway, the meals. In a word: superb. I started with — and I’m quoting from the menu here — the scallops wrapped in smoked duck breast bacon, sweet onion puree, mache salad, icewine salmis vinaigrette, paired with…well, with the giant glass of Fielding Pinot Gris the host had poured me while we waited. Nellie had a truffle and asparagus risotto paired with a 13th street sparkling white. Nellie declared it the best risotto she’d ever tasted. As for me, I don’t even really like scallops and I loved this.

My main was the Charlie Baker fried chicken with buttermilk potato puree, braised leeks, sauteed greens and bubbly sauce, while Nellie had the grilled flat iron steak frites with sauce béarnaise and garlicky beans. We sought out a wine that would work with both (!) and settled on a 2007 Southbrook “Whimsy” Cabernet Franc. And wow, did it work. We were still enjoying it when our strawberry & rhubarb clafouti arrived.

Perhaps the oddest part of the night was when we asked for a cab. Despite being warned by T-Bone about the scarcity of cabs in the city, we were hopeful…and we were to be disappointed. The nearest one was 30-40 minutes away. So, much to our amazement, the semi-crazy host pulled around in a giant purple minivan and offered to drive us home. Weird, but pretty cool too. More than made up for the long wait for a table, and also made for a great laugh the next morning.

Day two started with an excellent breakfast at the Shaw Club’s restaurant before checking out and driving south to see Niagara Falls itself.

Never mind the schlocky shops on the way into town, the outrageous cost of parking, the mind-numbing tackiness of the gift shops you’re forced through to gain a vantage point…the falls are amazing. I could probably stand at the river’s edge all day and watch the water plunge over, but not today…it was freezing, and spitting rain. We stayed long enough for me to really soak it in, get some pictures and get even wetter from the spray, and then walked back to the car. A sudden storm burst just long enough to soak us as we ran to the car. It wouldn’t be the last time.

We did have a break in the rain long enough to visit Ravine Vineyards, another recommendation. Their tasting room wasn’t quite open yet so we had some tasty treats at their bakery first. Once the sun was over the yardarm we picked up a bottle each of their 2006 Cabernet Franc and their Redcoat blend, and got some recommendations from their staff about the next stop on our tour.

Southbrook‘s beautiful LEED-certified building suits their organic and biodynamic wine. We’d already decided to pick up a bottle of the Whimsy, since we’d loved it the night before, and while we expected to walk out with their rosé, we instead left with a bottle of their “Fresh” white blend, which won us both over during the tasting.

As we’d pulled into Southbrook the weather had turned vile. Rather than visit one more we decided to take nature’s hint and just hit the road. When the rain comes in sideways, it’s time to go home. It was tough going just outside of Niagara on the Lake because of the driving rain, and then on the Skyway as we passed Hamilton the wind actually blew our car halfway into the next lane. All the dreary, windy driving made us both sluggish, so we dropped the wine, dropped the car, helped an Australian man figure out how to adjust the seat in his rental and happily deposited ourselves on our couch and admired our new wine collection.

13 bottles of wine, 3 great meals and a wonder of the world…not bad for 28 hours.

[     Rut     ] –> Me

Wow. What a game. Tense. Awesome, but tense.

This past week was frenetic; I’ve definitely earned my day off tomorrow. We’re headed out for a wine excursion in Niagara-On-The-Lake, the first time we’ve left the city since we went to France last fall. The weather is supposed to be shit but I don’t care. I need this. And I need some good food. And I need some fresh air. And I need a comfy hotel bed.

And I need to be back for game five.

"Maybe you, filmmakers, do lie to people but we, advertisers, don't!"

Instead of our usual five screenings at Hot Docs, this year we kept ourselves to three. Good thing too; my Habs have done better in the playoffs than I expected. We were very happy with the three we did see, though:

GasLand (hot docs | imdb) won the special jury prize at Sundance, and for good reason. This had everything a good documentary needs: interesting subjects, a shocking story and a passionate teller. Filmmaker Josh Fox was offered money to allow drilling for natural gas in his property in upstate Pennsylvania. He began to investigate the effects of such drilling (and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, to release the gas) on people who had signed over their drilling rights. More specifically, he wanted to see the effect on their drinking water. See, back in 2005 the Bush White House passed the Energy Policy Act which exempted natural gas drilling from having to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which meant natural gas companies didn’t have to worry about the EPA shutting them down no matter how much environmental damage they did. Anyhoo…while traveling around the country visiting drill sites Fox found numerous families whose water had been so infused with gas it could actually be lit on fire coming out of the tap, farmers whose livestock was rapidly dying, entire towns with extraordinary chemical content in their air because of their proximity to natural gas pipeline valves, and so on. Obviously Fox turned down the offer to drill on his property, but many others around him did not. The watershed on which Fox and his neighbours sit supplies water to New York City, Philadelphia, and much of New Jersey and Delaware, and other water systems are similarly threatened. And, lest we Canadians get too smug, fracking has been happening here too, primarily in Alberta but also in Ontario. If you want to know more you can check out GasLandTheMovie.com.

Czech Dream (hot docs | imdb) was a little lighter. Basically two film students, knowing how addicted Czechs had become to shopping at hypermarkets after the fall of Communism, wanted to see what would happen if they launched a huge ad campaign for a store that didn’t exist. Hilarity ensues, mostly at the expense of the advertising industry who claim deceit is not their modus operandi, and then at the thousands of people who showed up in the middle of an industrial park, then ran hundreds of yards across a muddy meadow, to ultimately reach a big fake storefront. The film was made six years ago, at a time when the Czech government was spending millions on ads to convince citizens to vote to join the EU, and the parallels weren’t lost on those who slunk across a field, knowing they’d been sold a bill of goods.

Our final film, Talhotblond (hot docs | imdb) was downright disturbing. I can’t describe it in detail as I’d be giving away too much, but let’s just say it involves three internet connections, two people with mental issues and a lot of innocent bystanders who have their lives ruined. You can watch the trailer at talhotblond.com, and I believe the movie’s already out on DVD and on demand from cable providers.