Photo by Bill McIntyre, used under Creative Commons license

“Mother Nature is a serial killer.”

This weekend is all about TV (Breaking Bad series finale, new season of Homeland starting) but we have watched a few movies leading up to it:

Drinking Buddies (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was fun to watch…it was low-budget and improvised, so it felt authentic. The chemistry between Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde was scary. This isn’t a movie that would play in megaplex theatres. It’s too real.

I’d read World War Z recently and liked it, but know it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the movie that’s just come out (imdb | rotten tomatoes). The always-brilliant Oatmeal, for example, compared the two this way (but you shouldn’t read it if you plan to eventually read the book):

Still, Nellie loves her zombies, so we watched it. It wasn’t terrible, but it obviously lacked the nuance and sweep of the book. For the record, though, I didn’t remember Brad Pitt doing very much shooting himself. He throws a lot of things and makes several distressed phone calls.

Turning completely in the opposite direction last night, we went to the Lightbox to see Watermark (imdb | rotten tomatoes), the new documentary by Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky. Much like Manufactured Landscapes it’s predominantly visual, building on Burtynsky’s latest project about how water has shaped us and, more recently, how we’ve shaped water. It’s stunning and intriguing and more than a little worrying. Burtynsky said in a Q&A after the film that he wanted it to land somewhere between a Michael Moore-style polemic and a purely visual piece like Samsara, and I think it worked.

.:.

Photo by Bill McIntyre, used under Creative Commons license

The essence of the devil and the nectar of the gods and the music of the monsters

This past weekend we drove around Lake Ontario (through a Gardiner Expressway closure, no less) to visit Matt & Kaylea — they of the recent epic wedding — to visit some wineries, have some laughs, and eat some of Matt’s cooking. We arrived earlier than planned but later than hoped, checked out their sweet new place, and zipped into Beamsville for some wine tasting.

We attempted a Malivoire visit but the parking lot was so busy we didn’t even stop…we just 180’d in their driveway and left, then 180’d again when we realized we were heading away from stop #2: Tawse. Eventually we got there, bypassing the busy tasting room for the member’s cellar. We tasted through what would become a common occurrence: a cloud of fruit flies. Guess it’s that time of year. Anyway, we got to try several things we, and more importantly M&K, hadn’t tried before. We ended up taking away a case of six special one-off Chardonnays, around which we’re likely going to construct a big tasting or dinner party. Our wine club membership came in handy, as the power went out just as we attempted to make our purchases and the POS system wouldn’t reboot. “Bill me,” I shouted as I strolled out, “I’m a member!” OK, that didn’t happen, but we did get some cut-eye as we walked out past a dozen people waiting impatiently to pay.

We had an equally productive (expensive?) stop at Hidden Bench, where among the half dozen we purchased were two bottles of 2010 La Brunante, their flagship Bordeaux blend which they’ve only made twice before. The tasting room was so busy we didn’t even bother tasting…we knew what we wanted. We swung by Fielding after that for a few quick samples and some Kaylea snark, and left with a paltry three bottles. Matt & Kaylea didn’t do too badly either, picking up eight on the day:

After Fielding we’d had quite enough of sample pours, and returned to M&K’s. Matt began prepping dinner as we sampled a few Beer Academy beers we’d brought with us  (German mild ale = good; peach wheat = gross) and before long we were attacking a charcuterie board (which included some of the best Buffalo mozzarella I’ve ever had) and a bottle of really nice Italian sparkling whose name escapes me but which almost certainly contributed to the fuzziness of this picture:

Before we knew it we were into the soup course, an unreal homemade butternut squash number, paired with a special treat indeed: a 2000 Thirty Bench Chardonnay. It had the same few suspect early sniffs as the 1999 Closson Chase Chardonnay we shared last year, but turned into creamy, rich goodness which got along so well with the soup they might as well have just eloped.

Here we took a brief intermezzo to let some food settle, wash a few dishes, drink a bottle of Tawse Lauritzen Pinot Noir, and watch Matt and Nellie nearly die from eating a fresh habanero pepper. Matt’s solution to this was as follows:

That didn’t work, obviously. Finally I convinced him to drink some cream, and things righted themselves enough to move on to the main course: beef bourguignon. This we paired with another outstanding choice from their visit to Thirty Bench: a 2007 Cabernet Franc, perhaps my favourite red. We listened to a bizarre rotation of music, but finally settled on Of Monsters And Men long enough to get us through all the beef and mushrooms. Then came dessert, a beautiful roasted Italian plum ice cream with cinnamon and my dad’s maple syrup. A Fielding Rock Pile Pinot Gris purchased earlier in the day went nicely with dessert. Note that there are no decent pictures of either of these, as I annihilated them before I thought to snap a pic.

Matt and I were very definitely done for the evening, and after a few more hours of talking and finishing off the beer, started to crash. The music took a turn for the worse (Culture Club? the hell?) and the ladies began dancing and then unwisely drank an entire bottle of Rosewood Merlot, leaving us with a respectable lineup of fallen soldiers on the day:

None of us were terribly quick to jump out of bed the next morning, obviously, but neither were we poorly. Whatever shakiness we might have felt was quickly erased with some delicious Fahrenheit coffee and a stellar Matt breakfast of eggs, pork chop-sized hunks of peameal bacon, and English muffins. Good thing too: we had more tastings to do! Once we’d all showered and poured Nellie into the car we set off toward the bench.

Malivoire was considerably less busy than it had looked the day before. After a misbegotten stop out front for cheese and some dodgy-looking white, we got into the reds inside. We left with a very good Pinot and a standout Cab Sauv and a mouthful of fruit flies. Next up was Megalomaniac, about which I’ve always been ambivalent, and so remain. Next was a completely new stop for all of us: Vieni. I’d never heard of it but Kaylea, being the plugged-in type that she is, guided us there. It’s a very large property, but very new, and a little scattershot with the wine lineup, but that should improve with age. Nellie picked up yet another bottle of sparkling, and I was happy to pick up an Aglianico, which they claim is the only one made in Canada. It’s certainly the only one I’d ever seen. I am, in fact, drinking it right now as I write this blog post.

Our final stop of the weekend was Thirty Bench, where I’d hoped to fill a hole in our vertical collection of Cab Francs. Turns out they didn’t make the vintage we’re missing…so I suppose we’re not really missing it. We also picked up a Pinot without tasting it, it having been recommended to us to do so by miss Kaylea.

We left there and, realizing it was late afternoon, decided to grab lunch at Syndicate, a nearby gastropub. Unfortunately we didn’t do the math on just how late it was until we’d already ordered — we didn’t have much time to return the car given that the Gardiner was still closed. The rest of the meal turned into a bit of a frenzy, after which we dropped Matt & Kaylea back at their house and sped away, making excellent time all the way around the lake to the west end of Toronto before getting jammed up. We took alternate routes and side streets and a few ill-fated turns and in the end got the car back only six minutes late, which was pretty damn good.

Later that evening while Nellie watched the Emmys I took stock of everything we’d bought:

  1. Tawse 2011 David’s Block Chardonnay
  2. Tawse 2011 Muhl Vineyard Chardonnay
  3. Tawse 2011 Eastman Vineyard Chardonnay
  4. Tawse 2011 Lenko Vineyard Chardonnay
  5. Tawse 2011 Hillside Vineyard Chardonnay
  6. Tawse 2011 Celebration Chardonnay
  7. Hidden Bench 2009 Terroir Cache Meritage
  8. Hidden Bench 2009 Terroir Cache Meritage
  9. Hidden Bench 2009 Felseck Chardonnay
  10. Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
  11. Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
  12. Hidden Bench 2011 Nuit Blanche
  13. Fielding 2007 Chosen Few Red
  14. Fielding 2011 Viognier
  15. Fielding 2012 Lot No. 17 Riesling
  16. Malivoire 2010 Mottiar Pinot Noir
  17. Malivoire 2010 Stouck Cabernet Sauvignon
  18. Megalomaniac 2011 Bubblehead Sparkling Rose
  19. Vieni 2010 Aglianico
  20. Vieni 2012 Sparkling Rose Brut
  21. Thirty Bench 2010 Pinot Noir
  22. Thirty Bench 2011 Chardonnay

Rounding out the haul was a gift from Matt & Kaylea: a 2002 Thirty Bench Benchmark Red. Zoinks! We’ll build a meal around that soon.

It was fun, but it may prove dangerous having these particular friends less than an hour (Gardiner hell permitting) from our home.

Photo by Eli Christman, used under Creative Commons license

Carisma [sic]

Somehow, despite the fact that it’s around the corner from our place, we’d never tried Carisma. The name doesn’t immediately suggest “Italian restaurant”, nor does the store front, so we’ve walked past it dozens of times and just never gone in. Friday night, unsure where to go, we just took a flyer and decided to give it a shot. And a good shot it was.

However it looks outside, it certainly feels like an Italian restaurant inside…rich decor, friendly staff, regulars speaking Italian — only Italian — with the manager. As is often the case for us we avoided the menu and ordered all specials: I had the burrata with a glass of Falanghina, while Nellie had a small plate of fettuccine in white truffle and olive oil sauce paired with a glass of Gavi. For her main Nellie had the black angus steak, while I had a Mediterranean sea bass — unusual for me, but I wasn’t feeling hungry enough to get into any of the big secondis on the menu. We both asked for wine pairings; Nellie was given an Aglianico with her steak, which seemed a bit weird and didn’t go terribly well, while I was given a Malivoire Pinot Noir, which went extremely well with the grilled fish. I was also excited that he went local with my recommendation…I didn’t expect that.

For dessert we split a lemon & lavender crème brûlée. Nellie had a glass of Oban with hers, while I had an espresso — no doubt the reason I managed to stay awake for more of our Midnight Madness screening a few hours later than she did.

Anyway, a good find, a happy find in our own neighbourhood. We’ll definitely be back, possibly in greater numbers to occupy that huge corner banquette.

.:.

Photo by Eli Christman, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Ping Foo, used under Creative Commons license

#TIFF13 recap

Over the past week we’ve taken in our now-usual five festival films. They were a dark lot this year, and about as festival-y as it gets (in that most will likely never see wide release).

Miss Violence (tiff): we’d never seen a film in the City to City programme before, but this one caught our eye. It was certainly one of the more disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. Put it this way: it starts off with an 11-year-old girl committing suicide, and goes downhill from there. So…yeah. Incredibly acted, though, and it took a day of reflection to recognize the skill with which the layers were peeled off to reveal a rotten core. Unfortunately, it was marred by what must be the worst set of audience questions ever foisted on such a brave director. 8/10, though I could probably never recommend it to anyone.

How I Live Now (tiff): I’d hoped this would be a little deeper and darker than it turned out. Apparently it was based on a YA novel, and there was a lack of depth in the film that really held it back. Saoirse Ronan was very good (though for the love of Pete, would someone should just let her speak in her normal voice? Embrace the Irishness, producers of the world!) and tiny Harley Bird pulled off the amazing feat of playing an adorable kid that didn’t become grating or saccharine. But still…could have been so much more. 5/10.

Afflicted (tiff): this was a Midnight Madness film playing for the second time (and hence, not at midnight) and in front of a mixed crowd: half of whom knew it was MM and therefore what to expect, the other half of whom seemed unaware of what they were in for. I think they figured it out after the 4th or 5th gushing fountain of blood. No masterpiece this, but any time you can take a trope as well-worn as this (I don’t want to reveal the basic plot) and a device as overused as ‘found footage’, and somehow pull off an interesting and exciting version of it for, like, $350k…bravo. If you’re a horror genre fan at all, or want to be impressed with how skill and imagination can overcome a low special effects budget, watch this.  7/10. Side note: apparently the film made someone pass out at the debut screening at the Ryerson, but Afflicted was actually pretty tame by MM standards. Unlike…

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (tiff): our first and only true MM screening of the festival, and on Friday the 13th no less. I’ll admit that after an early morning, a long day at work, and then a very heavy meal, we both struggled to stay awake for this one. No fault of the film, it was all us. We’re old, you know. Anyway, this turned out to be an incredibly fun, savage, bizarre, clever, bloody, sweet film that is nearly impossible to describe. It slapped my weary, fevered brain around, much to my brain’s enjoyment. 9/10.

iNumber Number (tiff): what a bad-ass way to wrap up the festival: full-on, straight-up South African cops & robber action. Nothing complicated, just tortured good guys, corrupt officials, scary bad guys, a killer location that practically becomes a character in the film, and terrific performances all around. We saw the final screening in a pretty large theatre, after it showed Thursday and Friday nights in even bigger theatres, so this one had some attention. This, for me, was out sleeper pick. 8/10.

So that’s a wrap on TIFF13. Next year: ten films, at least.

.:.

Photo by Ping Foo, used under Creative Commons license

Wedding vows and trench foot

There are weekends. There are weekends. And then there’s the wedding celebration we were part of these past few days, for which a pedestrian term like “weekend” is insufficient.

[UPDATE: Kaylea has now posted Jess’ amazing photos in a Facebook album]

FRIDAY

As much as Nellie and I wanted to head up to meet our friends at the cottage on Thursday night we both had to put in full days at the office on Friday. After work we picked up the car (a Hyundai Genesis sedan, somewhat larger than what we usually get, but that would come in handy), then picked up a bunch of meat at the behest of the resident chef, A. We also picked up B, the chef’s girlfriend, who would be our companion for the drive there and back, and an utterly charming one at that.

Leaving the city was a pain in the ass, but the DVP wasn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Were in good shape until we decided to deviate slightly from our normal route, and ended up driving haltingly across Highway 7 in what we quickly realized was a colossal mistake. Then our planned escape route north was temporarily closed, and our attempted end run around the detour went disastrously wrong as we fumbled about the various cul de sacs of Markham and went airborne over the speed bumps therein, which the four live lobsters in the car must surely have enjoyed. We eventually gave up and got back on Highway 7, then herked and jerked behind some slow-ass drivers for far too long, finally reaching the familiar highways which we knew curved north and east toward our friends.

We finally made it to the cottage just after 10pm, by which time the other guests — who were waiting for the food we carried — were ravenous. Chef A tossed the lobsters in the refrigerator’s crisper and began prepping hamburgers. Matt handed me a special cask-aged beer to help erase the memory of the drive, and we slowly melted into cottage life. This particular cottage, though, was humming: it would house more than a dozen people over the weekend. But within a few minutes we were riding its vibe, and lowering the bundle of  work, the city, the traffic, and the misbegotten routes from off our shoulders. We ate, drank, talked, and laughed until morning, then crashed. The organizer had graciously given Nellie and I a room; many slept on couches in the living room, or on futons in the sun room, or just on the kitchen floor.

SATURDAY

After being scared half to death by the afore-mentioned kitchen-floor-sleeper (who abruptly sat up after I’d been unwittingly standing next to her for an hour) I helped eat three pounds of bacon. So my heart was getting a workout.

There were bagels too, I guess, but that right there was the main attraction.

Sufficiently greased, I went with the groom and a friend to run some errands — fetching water, carrying kegs, sampling beer, organizing tables — at the venue, a maple syrup house (my people!) which also hosts events and giant barbecues (again…my people!), then came back to the cottage long enough to run a few more errands, slam some advil and take a nap in an attempt to ditch an oncoming migraine, and get dressed for the wedding.

The short bus ferried us to the venue just in time for the rain to begin. Not real rain, mind you, just the heavy-ass mist that gets you wet but for which you’d feel silly unfurling an umbrella. So, Halifax in the fall, basically. The ceremony was short and pretty, and we could bring our drinks — which seemed a little unusual but was actually brilliant because we could immediately toast them — and then our good, good friends were married. We ate cheese and drank cider and walked the grounds and poured beer while they had pictures taken. Meanwhile, for some reason Nellie and the maid of honor wanted to beat someone up, but I was never sure who and anyway they never quite got around to it.

Dinner was prepared on-site in a series of grills and smokers which looked like a Red Army outpost. I had pulled pork (twice) and brisket (twice) and salmon and too many sides. I ate too much, is what I’m saying, and I was hardly the sole member of that club.

After a few speeches (in which Nellie’s Lannister-ness and my Stark-ness were called out) and butter tarts for dessert, the dancing started. Music was supplied by Jeff Young and the Muskoka Roads Band, who were fantastic. Just…rock and roll. All the way through. They set a lot of people to dancing, especially Kaylea and her bridesmaids and, most importantly, her Dad. Who is a goddamned farmer force of nature, by the way, and with whom I feel I bonded, though I suspect anyone who talks to Ray for more than five minutes feels the same.

As the night continued we met more and more of our friends’ friends — keep in mind, Nellie and I were the only ones there, as best we can tell, who weren’t family, university friends, camp friends, or co-workers…we were former patrons who somehow lucked into this fraternity — whilst drinking Beau’s Nightmarzen and Muskoka Cream Ale and maple Old Fashioneds and other cocktails that Wes cooked up when he ran low on raw materials. Eventually the short bus came back for us, and we all piled back to the cottage. The rest of the night gets fuzzy from there, though I do remember drinking lots of wine with Kaylea’s friend who works for Lifford, and then singing in the boathouse until 5am with the afore-mentioned Jeff Young and another member of his band. Which was, uh, pretty goddamn cool.

SUNDAY

The next morning chef A (and erstwhile sous chef B) saw to the lobsters’ untimely demise, and prepared poached eggs, more bagels, and a hash of the lobster, corned beef, potato, and other deliciousness.

Since the kegs had followed us back from the wedding venue, and we had nothing to do that day — it was too cold even to go swimming — we commenced our assault on their contents and set about doing fuck-all for the morning.

Swimming or no, that wasn’t bad to look at. Kaylea and I took a quick paddle off the dock before I joined the rest of the crew on the lawn, where we did…nothing. Well, that’s not true: we ate some terrific Reuben sandwiches and Nellie had a full-on nap on the grass.

Anyway, this precision exercise in doing nothing continued throughout the afternoon. Ultimately the chef and sous began their next shift, and started prepping steaks. Three wonderful, magical steaks.

Now, without scale I can see how you might mistake — as one of my Facebook friends did — these steaks for lamb chops, with a paring knife sitting on them. No. That is a very large chef’s knife, and those are the tomahawk steaks that the gods themselves eat when they’re on Atkins. We ate these magnificent bastards along with some delicious corn and potato salad, and laughed ourselves stupid (somehow trench foot came up and I thought it was the funniest thing of all time, but for the life of me I can’t remember the context) and drank terrific Canadian wine (Norm Hardie County Pinot Noir, Tawse Cab Franc, Mission Hill Cab Sauv) and ended up waving around the bones like stolen trophies.

After dinner we drank more draft on the deck, then sat around a camp fire smoking cigars and laughing even more. Kaylea found a shroud in which to wrap herself. B pilfered some firewood. Nellie and Jeff tapped the Muskoka keg. If Saturday had been the monumental dawn of a new day, this Sunday was the comfortable, perfect sunset.

MONDAY

Comfortable, that is, until the next morning, which felt like a laser in my eye and a drill in my skull. Chef A cooked breakfast, a mishmash of everything left over from the previous few days. I ate what I could, mostly shoving whole slices of corned beef into my mouth like they were Pringles, since I had to drive home. Nellie, not wanting to be hung over for the drive home, just stayed drunk. Strategic! We gathered our shit and did our hugs goodbye and piled into the car with A + B, and began the drive south. Nellie was in charge of the music, a mistake which became apparent when she played “It’s Tricky” by Run-D.M.C. at a volume not suitable for the sober occupants of the car. We made a very necessary stop at a McDonald’s outside Beaverton, undoubtedly the best McDonald’s ever but which produced a spill situation which caused Nellie to exclaim “Is that blood or ketchup?! IS THAT BLOOD OR KETCHUP?!!?”, and then rocketed home just under the car-return wire. Sadly, there was no rest for the wicked-wedding guests…we walked home, showered, and went right out the door to our first TIFF screening. More on that in a later post.

AND SO

Look, it took us a few days to recover from this. And judging by our friends’ Facebook statuses we weren’t alone. It was without a doubt an epic weekend. What I didn’t mention here was all the cool people we met, or got to know better. Or the family we got to meet. Or the momentous happiness you could feel coming off the whole affair. It was far from the most exotic or impressive locale we’ve visited, but jesus hell was it one of the most memorable, if just for the sheer love and enjoyment running like a current through those four days.

All weddings are eventually labelled as celebrations, but not many live up to the word. This one? This one embodied it. Congratulations, Matt & Kaylea. Thanks for letting us be part of this.

Photo by Ricardo Diaz, used under Creative Commons license

“And so nevermore shall we see you again.”

Our pattern on each of the first two nights of this final long weekend of summer has been dinner and a movie. Or, rather: a movie and then dinner.

Friday we took advantage of our TIFF memberships and went to the Lightbox to see Jaws (imdb | rotten tomatoes) on the big screen. Seeing the remastered edition of the film on that big screen was like discovering a whole new layer. The clarity was beautiful, especially in the darker shots (Chrissie getting eaten, Quint in the crow’s nest), and the sound mix was sufficiently improved that I heard the same mispronunciation of “Brisbane” my brother heard when he first saw the remaster. Neither of us had heard it before then in all the many times we’ve watched that movie. Anyway, it was well worth the $6 ticket to see it all bright and shiny, with a bunch of people in the audience who’d never seen it. Nellie had forgotten how funny the movie was, and I’m reminded every single time I watch it that Quint’s Indianapolis speech is one of my favourite scenes in movie history.

After dinner we zipped across the street to Paese for some wine and pizza (roasted chicken, hazelnut pesto, green apple, and goat’s cheese for me; genoa salami, green olives, pecorino, chili and tomato sauce for Nellie), and then hit Bar Hop for a dessert beer — Oast House Bucolic Bastard for Nellie, Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque for me. It was a fine evening right up until Nellie’s shoe blew up on the way home.

Yesterday, after tackling a bunch of condo- and travel-related tasks, we decided to keep the 70s blockbuster theme going and watched Lovelace (imdb | rotten tomatoes). It was just okay. All the actors in it were good, it just didn’t blow me away  come together for me  resonate.

After watching that we walked down the street to the recently-opened Woods, where Colborne Lane used to be, and ate an excellent meal. Nellie had wild digby scallops with parsnip purée, roasted heirloom garlic, green alder, corned beef cheek, followed by Lake Huron pickerel with cauliflower purée, sea asparagus, roasted cauliflower, chanterelles and jus. I had a cold smoked tomato soup with duck confit and goat cheese, followed by the roasted Muscovy duck breast with tatsoi, shallot, sourdough, crispy confit, dried cherries, duck egg béarnaise. The mains were great, but the accompaniments were just outstanding. We paired those mains with a 2011 La Crema Pinot Noir, which fit the bill nicely. We left room for dessert, which came in the form of cinnamon sugar donuts with warm chocolate sauce. It was altogether excellent. Pricey, but I’d happily go back and be a bit more restrained.

We came home, sat on our balcony, admired the view that never gets old, and drank a bottle of 2005 Undercliff Chambourcin, a birthday gift from my brother.

.:.

Photo by Ricardo Diaz, used under Creative Commons license