Tension grows and the whistle blows

I love sports. The classic match-ups. The iconic venues. The unforgettable moments.

I was lucky enough to be back in Boston last weekend for work. In between conference sessions I had a pretty good steak at Davio’s, made a return visit to Stoddard’s to meet a friend, saw the memorial on Boylston Street, and drank a few good pints of craft beer (Allagash White, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Ommegang Abbey Ale) at the conference’s hotel pub. But mostly I was lucky because I got to experience one of those iconic venues. I got to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, from atop the Green Monster no less.

I ate a ballpark dog and drank a Sam Adams. I leaned out and touched Carlton Fisk’s foul pole. I listened to the crowd sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and, much more emphatically, “Sweet Caroline”. I watched David Ortiz crank a 439-footer to straightaway center not a week after his hilariously inspirational speech following the bombings. I watched the Sox beat Houston 7-2 on a blustery April evening and couldn’t think of anything more Bostonian to do.

The next day I flew back to Toronto, just ahead of my parents who flew in from Moncton for a (not quite) two-day stay. We had dinner at Starfish, explored the Distillery District, and sampled some of the breakfast sausage we made last weekend, but the real reason they were here was to see one of those classic match-ups: the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Nellie had somehow lucked into gold seats for the final game of the season, and gave up her seat so that my dad could watch his first NHL game in 49 (!) years and our first together.

Luckily for me, my Canadiens won. I felt bad that my dad had come all the way from Nova Scotia to watch his beloved Leafs lose, but I’m sure he felt the same way I would have had my team lost: just getting to watch such a big game together is now one of those unforgettable moments that sports can sometimes produce.


About halfway up to our friends Matt & Kaylea’s cottage last Friday we got a text from Matt telling us to meet them in Norland. Turns out he’d forgotten his key to the cottage, so we were to meet them at the Riverside Inn and wait for a backup key to arrive via family. So we did…and in so doing stumbled upon the theme for the weekend.

We entered the inn around 5pm on a Friday, and found it completely empty. Not a soul in the place except wait staff. We asked for a table, thinking we’d have our pick. The hostess asked if we had a reservation. Kaylea replied that, “No, we’re just freeballin’ it.” Matt and I looked at each other…uh, what now?

FREEBALLIN’ [free-bawl-in]
1. Usually used to refer to males who are without underwear.
2. The act of not wearing underwear.

We were pretty sure she didn’t mean to use that term. And it turned out that no, indeed she didn’t…she thought it indicated that we were winging it, no real plans, just having fun. In any case, the server understood and Matt and I had a giggle and we each had a pint of Cameron’s and then got down to the business of retrieving the key and making our way to the cottage. But freeballin’ had become the mantra.

We got to the cottage (after almost hitting a wild turkey on the highway) and realized very quickly that, unlike last summer, there would be no swimming. No canoeing. No watching a gorgeous sunset from the dock.

The shitty spring we’ve been having meant that we’d be spending our cottage time indoors. Luckily, we had provisions.

Like, say an Ontario rainbow trout with asparagus and smashed potatoes (prepped by Matt), and a bottle of Semillon-Sauv Blanc. That was the nice, light setup for the main event of the evening. Like last summer when we brought a 2001 Closson Chase chardonnay (which I’d won at auction) to the cottage, we brought two wines for a side-by-side comparison: a 1999 Thirty Bench cabernet franc (won at the same auction) and a bottle of the recently-released 2010 vintage.

That cab franc is pretty much my favourite red wine full stop, but I’d never tried anything older than 2007. And while the 2010 is just as good, the 1999 was something else entirely. A little less muscular than the newer vintage, but so much more refined. Tremendous stuff. I managed to start a whole twitter debate about who the winemaker was, finally receiving the correct answer right around the time that we emptied the bottle and noticed his name written on the label. Oops. The night gets a little fuzzy after that. I remember Matt saying “We are good at drinking.” I remember Nellie saying, “Matthew, NO.” And I remember them not being related. I also remember an epic struggle with an overzealous smoke detector at 4am.

The next morning we chugged some coffee and scarfed peameal sandwiches shlepped from St. Lawrence Market the day before and did a quick supply run into town (which was suffering from the same flooding that’s been plaguing the rest of cottage country, though not as severely.). There we picked up a De Souza meritage and a Côtes du Rhône and a mini-keg of Lake of Bays Crosswind, as well as 14 pounds of pork shoulder from the local butcher and a few more groceries. There were sightings of dazzling rubber boots, a ferocious pickup truck, and an awe-inspiring mullet, each more spectacular than the last. Nellie, in dire need of Vitamin Water, felt bad about making Kaylea drive to three different stores to find some. Not to worry, Kaylea said, we’re just freeballin’ it. In fact, she freeballed a traffic light just for good measure.

Back at the cottage, the weather turned even less pleasant as snow squalls hit.

No spring day, this: it was well below freezing outside. There was nothing for it but to bundle up, build a fire, and make some delicious food. First: maple doughnuts. And by “maple” I mean that there was Dickinson Brothers maple in the dough, in the cream filling, and dusted on top.

Around the same time, Matt was busy teaching me how to make sausage. I was less than adept at this, but enjoyed the hell out of it. The first step was to chunk up half of that pork shoulder and add seasoning…

…the run it through a grinder…

…then bind it with water and skim milk powder…

…and then stuff it into the casings and twist it into links.

Et voila: breakfast sausage with Dickinson maple sugar and sage. The recipe came partly from Matt’s brain, a tiny bit from the sugar woods of Nova Scotia, and a lot from this book, our bible for the weekend:

After a quick visit to a nearby maple farm to pick up a few things (and talk a little shop) we got back to the cottage and re-commenced into the culinary activities. Next up was a second round of sausage-making for the lads and a sparkling wine tasting for the ladies.

That’s right: it was colder outside than it was in the fridge. Happy spring! Anyway, we all did a blind tasting of these — turns out I know the difference between Ontario wine regions, but not the difference between Ontario and France — paired with a bunch of cheese and meat we’d brought from the market the day before.

Finally, after a much tougher process for the Texas Canadian hot links (a second grind was needed, and the addition of some maple syrup and sparkling Ontario white called for a name change) Matt took them to the smoker.

We sampled a bit, and declared it a success.


We packaged up the sausages and grilled steaks for dinner to go with the reds we’d picked up earlier in the day. There was talk of playing debit card monopoly, but after a stroll down to the lake and back I just fell asleep on the couch. Matt took up a position on the other couch not long after, having heaved the (depleted) Crosswind keg onto the lawn. Hey, we’d worked hard that day, we deserved an early beddy-bye time. Anyway, it’s not like there was a set agenda. Freeballin’, remember?

The next morning we sampled the fruits of our labours, in the form of breakfast sausage. Mission? Accomplished, with deliciousness. We laid around as long as we could, but eventually had to pack up and go. Nellie didn’t do so well on the way home, but we made it back to T.O. with a fully-fueled rental car and about 20 minutes to spare.

We may not have gotten the weather we’d hoped for, but the food and fun more than made up for it. There were shapeless neon hats and snowman scarves and games of fetch. There was bird watching and data tethering and biomass burning. Most impressively there was handmade sausage and maple-y doughnuts and outstanding wine, but more importantly there were good friends and warm fires and hilarious videos, and all of those adjectives were totally interchangeable.

Freeballin’: better with friends.


For fuck’s sake.


Source: AP Photo/The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki
Source: AP Photo/The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki

We just visited for the first time, not two months ago. It felt like Halifax, like home.

I was back two weeks after that for a conference, just a couple of blocks away from the explosion sites.

I’m scheduled to go again, a week from tomorrow.

I suspect we won’t know much about the “why?” until tomorrow. As for the “what now?” I’ll leave that to Patton Oswalt:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”


Photo by hahatango, used under Creative Commons license

No, not Bellie…Nellie

Since our wine rack was looking a little sparse, we tootled down to Niagara to pick some up. We hit Kacaba (warning: maybe the ugliest website I’ve seen in a decade) and Vineland and Tawse, where they were pouring samples of their 2011 Pinots alongside the 2010 vintages from the same vineyards. We stopped at Southbrook and had lunch at The Garrison House (warning: that site autoplays Gordon Lightfoot). We picked up bottles by Le Clos Jordanne, Stratus, Lailey, Ravine, and Five Rows.

We weren’t just picking up for ourselves either. We gathered a case along the way for friends who’ve recently bought a beautiful home in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and who graciously hosted us for a dinner of soup and short ribs and copious amounts of wine. Then there was some throwback Wii Sports, and then some sleep — and thank god, because I’d been sipping wine since 10:30am. By around the same time the next morning we were on our way back to Toronto, fighting the wind on the Skyway and some Jays fan traffic on the Gardiner, but nothing too serious.

It was a quick there-and-back, but we came back with a fine haul:

  • Five Rows 2012 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Five Rows 2012 Pinot Gris
  • FiveRows 2012 Pinot Gris
  • Kacaba 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
  • Kacaba 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lailey 2010 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Village Reserve Chardonnay
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay (x2)
  • Southbrook 2010 Whimsy Lot “I” Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Southbrook 2011 Winemaker’s White
  • Stratus 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Stratus 2009 Chardonnay
  • Vineland Estates 2011 Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Chardonnay
  • Vineland Estates 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vineland Estates 2007 Reserve Fumé Blanc

Photo by erjkprunczýk, used under Creative Commons license

“Is he a very great wizard, or is he more like you?”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit is almost a part of my family. I’d had it read to me, in parts, multiple times when I was very little and would get sick. I don’t remember, but suspect I was whining that I wanted someone to read to me, and my dad decided that if he was going to read something it’d be something good. I read it myself later, but forgot most of it. I read it again shortly after I moved to Toronto, not long before Peter Jackson began making his Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I rediscovered those books as well, and fell in love with Jackson’s films. So I was more than a little excited when he announced he’d be making a film version of The Hobbit (imdb | rotten tomatoes) as well.

I’ll admit, though, that a crazy schedule kept me from going the first few weekends after its release, after which middling reviews (of the film, and of the 3Dish technology in which it was displayed) discouraged me further. But once again, family intervened: my brother told me the middling reviews centered mainly around the difference in tone of the film vs. the LOTR trilogy…which shouldn’t have surprised anyone, given the difference in tone between the books. So, armed with that knowledge, the convenience of on-demand TV, and a long weekend we settled in to watch it.

And it was pretty good. Not amazing, mind you…just pretty good. It’s suffering a bit from Jackson’s (or the studio’s?) desire to stretch a small book over three long films, but Tolkien packed a lot in those pages. And while I knew Dwarf songs were coming, that doesn’t mean I liked it. It also felt a little like they’ve fallen a bit too in love with the CGI, but not disastrously so.

I’m quite looking forward to the next adventure now though, so…mission accomplished.


Photo by erjkprunczýk, used under Creative Commons license