Eigensinn Farm

Friday night Nellie and I joined T-Bone and The Sof for a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, two hours north of Toronto at Eigensinn Farm. Dinners there are a bit of a mystery — there’s no website to speak of apart from an out-of-date blog, and there’s no published menu. They do infrequent dinners for only twelve people at a time, featuring a prix fixe menu customized by chef Michael Stadtländer, but they’ve long since become a foodie pilgrimage. T-Bone and I tried to organize a trip years ago, but between the long waiting list, my experiment with vegetarianism, T-Bone’s experiment with children, and so on we’d just never managed it. But then The Sof pulled off a last-minute (read: three weeks in advance) reservation for the four of us to celebrate T-Bone’s birthday, and the long-standing plan became a reality. Clearly, we just needed an engineer to make it happen. And frankly, given the kind of week Nellie and I had, it was a welcome distraction to hypothesize about the menu and feverishly prepare wine pairings. So yesterday we piled into the limo The Sof had arranged and took off to Singhampton.

To be clear: Eigensinn Farm’s not an easy place to find. There’s no sign on the highway, just a rural address. But once we found it and drove past the enormous pile of wine bottles, parking in the midst of chickens and partridges and turkeys and a friendly dog, we could tell it would be a fairly magical experience. We were greeted by Stadtländer’s wife Nobuyo, our host for the evening. She showed us into their home, where we met the chef, marvelled at the kitchen, and took our seats inside a room so full of paintings and sculptures and homespun furnishings that it felt at once other-worldly and yet entirely familiar. There was even a big orange cat sprawled under our table.

Right, then: down to business. This was the menu, and each course pretty much deserves its own paragraph.

Amuse Geule: actually a collection of half a dozen things, not a lone amuse. There was an oyster from New Brunswick, a small salad with pig’s ear(!), cured beef heart, a piece of blackened cod, cured goose breast and pork coppa and some other kind of salumi, and some extremely tender ham on a piece of bread. We paired this with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut 2004.

Herbed soup with oxtail ravioli and sweetbreads: this, for both Nellie and I, was the course of the night. First, the bowls (which looked hand-crafted) came with sprigs of fresh fennel and savory embedded and hovering over the soup, adding to the spectacular aroma. The soup itself was sublime, while the oxtail ravioli and sweetbreads added bursts of deep, earthy flavour through the middle. It was spectacular. And the New Zealand Gewurztraminer, an off-dry 2010 Kaimira from Nelson, paired well enough.

Lobster terrine: I’m not a lobster fan (though I’ve come to appreciate it a little in recent years), and am definitely not a terrine fan, but when it’s prepared this well it wasn’t an issue. It was also a chance for us to pull something special from our own wine collection, our only contribution to the lineup: a 2003 Tawse Bench Reserve Chardonnay. Nobuyo, who prepped and served the wines all evening, was impressed that we had one — or, rather, that we’d managed to keep it so long without drinking it. It had, in my opinion, the perfect mix of aged richness and Ontario earthiness. It might have actually been good enough to convince T-Bone that some Ontario wine is worthwhile. We even gave Nobuyo a little sip.

Yellow perch fried in butter with hazelnuts: subtle middle course before the main event, surrounded by fresh dill. We paired it with a Henri Bourgeois 2011 Les Baronnes Sancerre, which didn’t blow any of us away.

Blackcurrant sorbet: this palate cleanser showed up in the overturned bottoms of broken wine bottles. With this, we took a short break for a stroll outside around a bit of the farm, playing with the cat and dog, watching the rabbits, and enjoying the scenery.

Suckling pig composition: once we returned to the dining table we were presented with a plate full of pork several ways, the best of which was a “cheeseburger” croquette of pork and stilton. We paired all this with a 2007 Altesino Brunello, which was pretty good. Not stellar though.

Then came a series of three cheeses (which escape my memory), three desserts (an ice cream, a blueberry compote, and a raspberry compote), and petit fours, during all of which we drank a Château La Fleur Boüard 2008 Lalande De Pomerol. By that point we were done in. We thanked the Stadtländers, piled back into the car, and began the journey home. It’s unlikely we’ll ever be lucky enough to return, but I don’t feel like we left anything on the table.

Sonny

A little over ten years ago Nellie and I decided to get a cat. We visited the Toronto Humane Society, passed the interview process, and were told to pick out our new friend. But then something happened: we saw two brothers (half-brothers, actually) together, and just as the staff commented to us that we could take two brothers for a single adoption fee, the smaller of the two cats jumped up, stood on his back legs, and gently pawed at us through the window of their cage. It was one of the cutest things we’d ever seen, and we were sold. We couldn’t break them up (turns out this was Nellie’s plan all along) so we adopted them both. Lucky for his big brother, who was sulking in the corner of their cage, looking miserable.

The Humane Society gave us carrier boxes to bring our new friends home, but those boxes are designed for normal cats, not these guys who were 15+ pounds each. We put the big, cranky brother into one of the boxes and he looked like a muffin, his bulk and hair spilling over the top of the narrow box. “Is this,” his eyes seemed to ask, “really how we’re going to start this relationship?” Mercifully the staff let us take a large dog carrier which could accommodate their collective bulk. They were agitated on the drive home, and acted scared when we brought them into our tiny apartment. They had been given up twice already in their young lives (the smaller one was two, the larger was two and a half) and were understandably wary of any new humans. Maybe they didn’t want to get too comfortable, as they’d never lived anywhere for long up to that point. The little one soon warmed up to us, but the big guy mostly hid under tables and in dark corners.

We decided to name them Sonny and Michael, after the Corleone brothers in The Godfather. The older, larger, crankier one was Sonny since despite being sullen and moody he was bold and stubborn and already had a habit of bullying his younger brother, just like in the movie.

Santino_corleone_2

Their initial vet appointment revealed that Sonny had kennel cough, so we put him on antibiotics. Then, a few days after we adopted them I was working from home when suddenly this cranky, withdrawn, sullen cat was next to me, sitting up on his hind legs and begging like a dog for attention. Like this:

I scratched him and rubbed his belly for a good ten minutes before he went back to his nap. It turns out he wasn’t cranky, withdrawn, or sullen at all. He’d just been sick. His real personality soon emerged: he was playful, mischievous, stubborn, curious, constantly hungry, and had this bizarre habit of being hyper-affectionate for about ten minutes after waking up from a nap, and then a normal cat the rest of the time. It was almost like every time he went to sleep he expected to be given away again, and was always relieved when he woke up at home. I know, I know, I’m projecting and anthropomorphizing, but this cat was smarter than most. He could problem-solve — we had to start locking the bathroom door when he figured out how to work the pull handle, and earlier this year he figured out how to push his way through the screen door so he could explore the balcony that always fascinated him. So we constantly fell into the trap of expecting a human reaction from him.

Over time he became more and more affectionate with us. Even after we began sticking him with needles and pumping him full of IV fluids every night to treat the kidney problems he’d developed, he became increasingly affectionate, almost overwhelmingly so, especially after we returned from a long vacation. He’d climb between us in bed. He’d climb on our laps while we watched TV and massage our stomachs. He’d headbutt us and bite our noses.

The kidney problems got worse over the last few years, but to our vet’s surprise he never really showed any symptoms. Though we gave him more IV fluids and more medications his levels kept going up…still, he never showed it. He remained big and active and affectionate and about as playful as older cats get.

Suddenly, last Saturday, he became very ill. By Sunday he was worse. We tried one last Hail Mary of meds and painkillers, but it didn’t work. He was such a tough bastard — getting abandoned twice, beating kennel cough, and surviving longer with bad kidneys than anyone ever expected. But now his body was just shutting down. He was no longer the Sonny we’ve known for the last ten years. We owed it to him to give him an end with a little dignity, and with the vet’s counsel we decided to put him to sleep.

Before we took him to the vet for the last time we fed him enough catnip (the only treat he ever liked) to seed a lawn, and took him out on the balcony where he’d wanted to go his whole life. We lay down next to him and rubbed his belly as he gave us a few last I-love-you headbutts. And then we were at the vet and it was over.

I openly admit to having a stronger emotional attachment to animals than to most humans — apart from a short breakdown last year at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the only reason I can remember ever crying is when a pet died — and believe me when I say I had several emotional reactions whilst writing this. But we know we made the best choice possible for him. He was a proud guy, at least as proud as you can be when you shit in a box in a closet. He was our friend and family, and this is the call I’d want my friends and family making for me when I’m no longer me, when I’m more sadness than strength. When I’m more pain than joy. So his thirteen years here are done. But they were a really goddamn good thirteen years.

We’ll miss you so much, buddy. We’re so glad your brother was a good salesman all those years ago. Rest in peace.

Photo by mlcastle, used under Creative Commons license

“Wanna fight?”

It turns out sweltering heat tends to drive up our movie-watching frequency, but also more or less limits it to what we can pull up on demand at home rather than going outside.

Hence, we watched Jack Reacher (imdb | rotten tomatoes) last weekend. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but for two hours it was reasonably entertaining and rarely annoying, which is better than I expected. So there you go.

Last night that sweltering heat finally broke as a short but ferocious storm moved through Toronto:

A similar deluge hit us a few minutes later. We ducked and covered down the street to Triple A for some grub, some beers, and a shot of bourbon. Once the rain broke we took the streetcar to Bar Hop for another pint — Ommegang BPA for Nellie, Indie Alehouse Broken Hispter for me. We left to find nearly everyone on King Street staring up at the weird cloud patterns and colourful sky left behind by the storm.

The evening’s plans weren’t centered around the storm, actually, but around a screening of Only God Forgives (imdb | rotten tomatoes), Nicolas Winding Refn’s followup to Drive. Anyone who had only seen that film and not the rest of Refn’s work probably left the Lightbox theatre somewhat confused. It was slow and quiet and textured and incredibly violent and overall pretty weird. Which is to say, like most of Refn’s movies — the ones I’ve seen, at least. Amos Barshad did a fantastic piece at Grantland yesterday about Refn and his latest film (beware: it’s a little spoiler-y) which they refer to as “An inversion of Valhalla Rising’s Scottish Highlands”. I thought that was accurate — like Mads Mikkelsen’s One Eye, Ryan Gosling’s Julian barely speaks in the film, and violence bursts through these long, droning sequences which were gray and earthy in Valhalla Rising, but raging neon here. The film certainly isn’t for anyone, and may not be for anyone expecting another Drive, but good for Refn for making his movie and not chasing what was likely a multitude of offers to make practically the same again.

Both Nellie and I have been doing work on this Saturday, but watched another dumb action movie before we got started: The Bourne Legacy (imdb | rotten tomatoes). Which was exactly what you think it’s going to be. So, fine, but boring.

.:.

Photo by mlcastle, used under Creative Commons license

 

Photo by Graeme & Sara Bunton & Peele, used under Creative Commons license

Here’s your future

A week ago tonight Toronto was hit by rains of historic proportions. We got pounded. We got soaked. We learned to convert metric to cubits.

The story of the storm and the aftermath has been well-covered in the usual places. Torontoist had lots of great pictures, including of the overnight extraction of passengers from a hot, stranded, snake-ridden GO train.

Nellie had a bit of an ordeal getting home, but for the most part we got off easy. I know people who lost their basement or lost their car, or both. Half the people in the GTA had brutal commutes home, often abandoning their cars after they ran out of gas.

For my part I was lucky, with maybe a little farmer’s son’s weather instincts thrown in there too. I was working away at my office when, around 4:40PM, I turned and looked out my window. It just looked…wrong outside. It was too dark, and the sky was an odd colour. My window faces south, so I couldn’t see the huge cloud coming south toward us from the north. Still, my gut was telling me this wasn’t going to be just another rain storm, and I didn’t have an umbrella — the weather forecast hadn’t called for anything other than sprinkles at noon. I brought up my favourite weather site, and it said there would be no rain for 20 minutes. 20 minutes is just enough time for me to get home, so I went for it. I put my computer to sleep, grabbed my bag, and took off. I wouldn’t normally do that. I’d normally wait it out, or borrow an umbrella from someone, or just be okay with getting wet. But this seemed different.

Once I got outside I was even more sure that it was going to be heavy-duty. Growing up on the farm we could always tell when it was going to rain, but yesterday I felt that sensation much stronger than I remember feeling it before. I looked north when crossing Yonge Street, giving me a clear look all the way to the top of the GTA. I saw the biggest, blackest cloud I’ve ever seen. It actually looked like the cloud-covered UFOs from Independence Day. I hurried up.

Luckily a subway train came quickly, and a few stops later I got off. This picture was taken from the 70th floor at Scotia Plaza, probably around the time I was getting off the subway. I got to our building, feeling only a few tiny drops as I entered the lobby. 30 seconds later, by the time I’d taken the elevator up to the condo and looked outside, I saw this:

So yeah…I was pretty lucky. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, what we experienced was minor compared to the flooding in Alberta or especially the train explosion in Lac-Megantic. But I’m still glad I didn’t get caught in it.

.:.

Photo by Graeme & Sara Bunton & Peel, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Sheila Steele, used under Creative Commons license

“Jack. That’s the name I want.”

Somehow it’s taken us six years to see Boy A (imdb | rotten tomatoes) after not quite making our cut list at the 2007 TIFF. I really wish it hadn’t taken so long. Not simply because it’s an amazing — moving, troubling, beautiful, unsettling — film, but because it might have been even more jarring to see it before we knew who Andrew Garfield was.

.:.

Photo by Sheila Steele, used under Creative Commons license

 

Photo by Adam Fagen, used under Creative Commons license

I couldn’t decide whether to call this post “the risin’ of Weizen” or “the Porter new order”

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a former colleague, an ex-Torontonian who now lives in England. He knows I’m a beer fan, and mentioned that a few night before, at some bar not necessarily known for the their beer selection, he’d been able to try a Le Trou Du Diable Shawinigan Handshake. Over his week-long visit he’d noticed a much more extensive penetration of craft beer around Toronto than when he’d left four or five years ago.

I’d slowly started to recognize the same thing of late, but hearing my friend’s observations just cemented it. Places like Smokeless Joe, C’est What, and Rebel House had been carrying the torch for craft beer, especially Ontario craft beer for ages, but I’d noticed a shift in the clientele of such serious beer places, especially Volo. It wasn’t the same faces, the same beer geeks, every time. We’d see people trying new beers, searching out new releases, willing to be educated. Beerbistro was probably at the front of that tide, with places like Bar Hop, Wvrst, Bellwoods, and Indie Alehouse forming the second wave.

The size and makeup of the crowd at this year’s Session Toronto was a huge indication of how craft is quickly becoming the expectation. Another is the fact that Spotlight Toronto has run a ’30 days of Ontario beer’ feature the last few years, and Mike DiCaro’s series wrap-up post does a far better job of exploring and summarizing this shift  than I’ve managed here:

“Sure there was the rare brewery making weissbier and seasonals like an imperial stout, but the vast majority of what you encountered were pale ales with an amber ale or IPA being exotic. Even though it was only ten years earlier that time feels like eons ago. It has evolved into a completely new environment for craft beer lovers today. The bold, flavourful and hop-forward American-style IPA has become de rigueur and you can find a local craft example of just about every style imaginable […] .”

My favourite example of the shift might be Triple A, for all intents and purposes our new local. Make no mistake, it was the food that drew us here, and the food that’s kept us coming back. The beer selection for the first few months was basic; the most adventurous beer on tap was Mill Street Tankhouse. For the past several months, though, while the menu still contains the PBRs you’d expect in such a lo-fi place, they also carry Kensington FishEYE-PA, Flying Monkeys Stereo Vision, and Amsterdam Big Wheel — none of them exemplary beers, but a definite step-up from their original mass offerings, and a nod to the demand out there for decent, interesting, local beer.

I, for one, welcome our delicious new overlords.

.:.

Photo by Adam Fagen, used under Creative Commons license

Image by Jen Riehle for Smashing Magazine

Happy Pride & Canada Day Weekend!

A  wise man once said, “The best weekends are spent with good friends and family, but are measured in good wine and beer.” Actually, no one’s ever said that. No one famous anyhow, just me. Like, just now. That wise man was me. So yeah, we drank a lot this weekend, is what I’m saying. But we drank well, and with a  narrative in mind.

On Friday we escaped work a little early and prepared dinner for our friends Kaylea & Matt. That it was #cdnwine day on Twitter (apparently?) was just a bonus. We grilled steaks from Cumbrae’s and drank lots of Canadian wine (with a few others thrown in for international flavour) and beer (courtesy of K&M) and welcomed three of their friends and actually made use of our balcony for pretty much the first time this year. It’s possible that we ate too much and drank too much and didn’t get enough sleep, but it was worth it.  Here’s what went down (our gullets):

Wine

  • 13th Street 2011 Pinot Gris
  • Malivoire 2007 ‘Moira’ Pinot Noir
  • Nyarai 2011 Viognier
  • Pearl Morissette 2010 ‘Black Ball’ Riesling
  • Shypoke 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Versado 2010 Malbec
  • Featherstone 2011 Cabernet Franc (thanks Steph!)

Beer

  • Beer Academy Hopaweizen
  • Beau’s Festivale Plus Sticke Alt
  • Goose Island Sofie
  • Parallel 49 Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale

The next morning was basically an exercise in how fast we could get a peameal bacon sandwich and giant-ass Fahrenheit coffee into each of us, before sending Matt & Kaylea on their way. Then Nellie and I plopped ourselves on the couch, inexplicably watched the wretched Movie 43 (imdb | rotten tomatoes), and eventually Uber’d up to our friend MLK’s, where CBGBLB were visiting. We enjoyed their backyard while GB made some amazing barbecued ribs. We took along a few more treats for dinner too:

  • Pearl Morissette 2010 ‘Black Ball’ Riesling
  • 13th Street 2011 ‘Arome’ Essence White
  • Tawse 2009 ‘Laidlaw’ Pinot Noir
  • Tawse 2010 Wine Club Syrah

It wasn’t a late night, obviously, given the yesterevening’s festivities. We took a quick stroll through the Pride-related mayhem on Church Street on our way home, and were reminded that it’s totally legit for ladies to go topless in Toronto. Bless.

Sunday, much like Saturday evening, was sunnier and warmer than expected, so we found our way to a patio. The Bier Markt patio, to be exact, wherein I drank two ice cold Erdinger weissbeers and earned myself a sunburn. North of us, the Pride Parade snaked its’ way around central Toronto. We could see the tail from our balcony as it formed, even that far north. In honour of the day, we drank a bottle of Daniel Lenko 2008 ‘Chardonngay’ Chardonnay with dinner.

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And then what better way to spend Monday — Canada Day — than watching the White House get trashed, a la how the British/Canadian troops did it in 1814, in the risible Die Hard rip-off White House Down (imdb | rotten tomatoes)? Well, I guess we did come up with a better way: Nellie made a meal of shrimp and scallops and corn paired with a Southbrook 2004 ‘Poetica’ Chardonnay (the label for which featured a poem by Martin Tielli, one of my favourite Canadian musicians) and lamb paired with a Stratus 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Canadian food, Canadian wine, Canadian talent. Delicious patriotism!

.:.

Image by Jen Riehle for Smashing Magazine