Michael

Last July we said goodbye to Sonny, the older of our two cats. We still miss him every day, but he’d struggled with kidney problems for so long, and went downhill so quickly in those final days, that it almost felt as if it had to happen. Not to over-anthropomorphize, but Sonny seemed at peace when we put him to sleep. He was tired. He’d fought a long time.

We were worried about how Sonny’s death would affect Michael, his younger brother. Michael had always been a little needy, and liked attention, even Sonny’s which tended to be rough. After all, it was Michael who got our attention in the cage at the Humane Society eleven years ago, and his cuteness led us to bring them home, so they’d always been a pair. But Michael thrived on his own after July. He owned Nellie and I now, had us all to himself. We couldn’t even be in a different room than him for long; he’d have to come snuggle with us, or nuzzle us, or eat Nellie’s hair. And I couldn’t watch TV for two minutes without this happening:

He was just always, always happy. More like a dog, almost, with all that unrestrained affection. Frankly, we probably misnamed him — if Sonny was the kinda-sullen older brother who was prone to violence, Michael was always…well, he was always more of a Fredo than a Michael. No dark schemes or quiet intelligence with this one…he just wanted to please everybody all the time. Plus, like Fredo, he exactly wasn’t the brightest.

_Fredo2

He’d avoided all his brother’s health problems, and passed his check-up in March with flying colours, considering his age. We thought we’d have him with us a while longer. But things took a turn this past weekend.

On Saturday he seemed a bit lethargic, and kept trying to wheeze up a hairball. That’s not unusual, especially with hair as long as his, but he just couldn’t get this one up. Still, he spent part of the day on my lap and part napping under Nellie’s blanket, and even some time playing catch with me while enjoying a sunbeam, so pretty close to normal. We’d seen this before and figured he’d be back to normal after he hacked something up.

Then, yesterday, we noticed that his breathing was a bit shallow. He wasn’t wheezing, and he was still getting about just fine, but he was definitely a little off. Especially that night, as we got ready for bed — he didn’t start the evening on the bed with us, as was his custom. Instead he curled up on a pile of sheets in a corner of the closet. We went to sleep, worried that this hairball was giving him more problems than usual, and planning to call the vet in the morning.

I don’t know what it was that woke me up in the middle of the night. I’d finally drifted off despite worrying about him, but something woke me. I looked for him, and found him on the living room floor, struggling to breathe. We rushed him to an emergency vet clinic where they stabilized him, put him on oxygen, and kept him overnight. He had fluid around his lungs and his heart, which was making it hard for him to breathe. The next morning we heard the results of the tests on that fluid: it tested definitively for a carcinoma. Cancer, and not operable. They broke it to us that we could never bring him home again; even if they drained the fluid from his chest it would just build back up to choke him. He’d need oxygen pumped constantly just to keep breathing.

After talking to the doctor and to our regular vet clinic, we knew all we could do was to keep him from descending into pain and struggle. Palliative care just so we could bring him home for a few days would’ve been for us, not for him. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He wouldn’t have been able to jump up on my lap. He wouldn’t have been able to burrow under Nellie’s blanket. He wouldn’t have been able to chase his laser pointer, or stalk summer birds on the balcony, or eat food straight out of the bin, or play with the suds in Nellie’s bath, or climb on our most-allergic guests as he so loved to do. He wouldn’t be Michael. Not anymore.

And so, we went to the vet clinic. We spent a long time with him, as much as we could. We rubbed his belly and scratched his chin inside his oxygen tent. Even with all his discomfort and stress, he couldn’t help himself — he rolled onto his side and started purring as we stroked him. We kept on scratching and rubbing as he gently lowered his head and closed his eyes for the last time.

When Sonny died we’d been expecting it for years, then had a few days to come to terms with the prognosis, and then had a full day at home with him to spoil him. With Michael it was barely 12 hours after realizing how sick he was that he was gone. We wanted so much more time with him to say a better goodbye, but it wouldn’t have been fair. After eleven years of being so intensely affectionate and loving with us, we owed him the gentlest end possible.

And so: goodbye. Goodbye Michael, aka Mike, aka Monkey, aka Dumbass, aka Stinky Mike. Thanks for getting our attention at the Humane Society that day. Thanks for being with us and making us goofily happy all these years. Say hi to Sonny for us when you see him. We miss him, and already we miss you so much we can hardly stand it. We love you both. We’ll always love you both. Rest in peace.

 

Please, Molson and Labatt and Sleeman: save us from ourselves

Oh, for the love of Pete.

For those who don’t live in Ontario, here’s the background: the Beer Store, a foreign-owned monopoly on beer sales (outside of the provincially regulated LCBO) is worried that public sentiment has turned against them and toward a more open market for alcohol sales. One of the proposals has been to allow booze in convenience stores, as in several other provinces. So this ad is what their marketing geniuses has produced. Not surprisingly, the predominant reaction to the ad has been strong criticism and even outright mocking.

I believe the technical term for this kind of flailing is “death throes”.

Cover photo by Derek Law, used under Creative Commons

“A sophisticated and welcoming destination for those après work.”

So, I met my friend Bina for a drink last night. She also wanted to try this new Speakeasy 21 place near where we live, but it was stupid-rammed. We went elsewhere. It was cold out, so we ducked into the nearest place. Unfortunately for us the nearest place was the Suits bar in the Trump Tower. Yes, that Trump Tower. Neither of us had been before; I’d only tried Stock, the upstairs restaurant/hooker pavilion.

So we sit down and order a glass of wine from one the lady server, who corrects my (correct) pronunciation of Bachelder. We also order a charcuterie board, which arrives a while later. It’s a very nice array of meats and mustards and vegetables flourishes, so we ask what each of the meats are just to be sure. The gentleman server tells us he doesn’t know what they are, but says he’ll find out. A little odd, but no matter. He’s back in a minute and…doesn’t really have any more information. He points at the prosciutto and tells us it’s prosciutto. He points at a different meat and says that’s also prosciutto. He points at what’s clearly chorizo and says it’s salami. And he doesn’t know what the fourth one is. (It’s salami). We figure it’s his first day and thank him anyway and he’s off. So, more than a little odd, but whatever. It’s all tasty.

At some point I finish my glass of Chardonnay and want to move on to a red. When the gentleman server returns and asks if I’d like more wine, I say I’d like a glass of the Tempranillo — I remember there being one on the by-the-glass list. No problem, says he, and he heads back to the bar. A few minutes later the lady server stops at our table and, before I even register what’s happening, pours another Bachelder Chardonnay in my glass. By the time we process what’s just happened the lady server’s moved on to another table. We wait for her to finish with them, then point out that I’d asked for a glass of Tempranillo. She’s surprised by this and begins to explain how she thinks our signals got crossed, but then stops and smartly says, “No matter, I’ll take care of it.” Great. She’s off and I’m getting thirsty from all this cured meat.

A few minutes later the gentleman server comes by and delivers my glass of wine. Except…it’s white. It’s another glass of white. To his credit, at least it’s not another Bachelder Chardonnay, but it’s sure as shit not Tempranillo. We can’t even hold it together at this point; we both start laughing. I stop the server before he gets too far, and tell him it’s still not right. I offer to point out the specific glass on the menu if he’d like, but he says he’s got it. Okay then. He walks away. Bina can’t stop laughing.

Finally, the lady server comes over — at least 10 minutes after I’d originally ordered my second glass — and with a pained “Third time’s the charm!” delivers a glass of what appears to be Tempranillo.  At that point I didn’t even care; if it was red I was calling it a victory. Bina ordered another glass of exactly the same wine; she was having none of my adventure. We finished the board and ordered the bill. The lady server apologized as we split the $100 tab for our bits of meat and four glasses of wine. That’s right, four glasses –the thrice-ordered Tempranillo was not comped. I still tipped her; none of the mishegas was her fault. But I wished there was an option to delegate 100% of the tip to one server and one server only.

So, the moral of the story: never, ever set foot in the Trump Tower.

I got home from those drinks around the same time as Nellie, and we decided to get some dinner at Carisma. We’ve had great experiences both times we’ve been there, and I was hoping to wash the stink of #TrumpFail off me. Happily, Carisma came through in the clutch: our starters (shrimp pasta and burrata) and mains (steak and lamb) were amazing, the wine guru (who recognizes us now…score!) brought us a killer 2005 La Spinetta Pin Barbera/Nebbiolo, and the service was like a precision drill team. And that’s how it’s done.

Thanks for saving our evening, Carisma.

.:.

Cover photo by Derek Law, used under Creative Commons

Cover photo by Marcin Wichary, used under Creative Commons license

It’s time to abolish tipping

Can anyone explain to me why we observe this absurd practice known as tipping? Many other countries have simply done away with it by paying service staff what they’re worth, but we in North America cling to this flawed practice even though…

It’s arbitrary. There’s no rulebook for who deserves a tip vs. who doesn’t. It’s generally accepted that waiters, bartenders, baristas, doormen, and taxi drivers should be tipped, but why not other similar job? Why not hotel clerks? Why not bus drivers? Why not bank tellers or flight attendants or nurses? Even after years of participating in this economy and tipping constantly I still don’t understand the rules fully, and can’t imagine tourists visiting North America could figure it out. All I know is that we’re meant to feel deep shame if we don’t tip, regardless of how good or bad the service was. I steadfastly refuse to tip bathroom attendants for handing me a towel I could have reached myself, but still find myself skulking from the room quickly without making eye contact.

It needlessly complicates things. Customers have to search their pockets for an appropriate tip. Businesses have to use up scarce counter space with a tip jar. Waiters have to stand  idly at a table while a customer mentally calculates 20% instead of waiting on someone else. A barista has to watch the line grow while every customer punches in 3 unnecessary steps on the POS device, essentially doubling the time for every transaction.

It actually slows the adoption of more efficient technology. Many of the afore-mentioned industries, which value fast customer turnover, have been reluctant to add speedier contactless payment terminals to their checkout process because employees are afraid their tips will disappear. Early trials of MasterCard’s Paypass terminals in Canadian coffee shops resulted in the machines being mysteriously unplugged, since customers — who were in the habit of simply leaving the small change from each transaction on the counter as a tip — had no change left over after tapping their card to pay. Employees, no longer seeing the change in their tip jars which would supplement their minimal pay, simply sabotaged the machines. Some coffee shops have found ways to address this, including Starbucks’ new automatic tipping feature in their mobile app, but that’s a classic example of simply paving the cow path.

Companies use it for nefarious means. Because of course they do. In Canada the minimum wage in most provinces hovers around $10/hour (some have slightly lower levels for alcohol servers) but in the United States 19 of 50 states actually pay $2.13 per hour, leaving servers to make up the rest of the $7.25 Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage through tips. Essentially, this forces the burden of paying the employee a fair wage onto the consumer. By the way, 16 of those 19 states voted Republican in the 2012 election. Take from that what you will.

All this said, I’m not going to stop tipping. It’s unfair to the people currently earning minimum wage (or worse) who would bear the entire brunt of my little protest. But as long as businesses and merchant associations are able to screw employees with their tipping policies they won’t give it up, so at some point governments have to make it an unattractive option for merchants. It doesn’t have to affect the bottom line of a single business — they can increase their prices by 15% to cover the wage difference, just as some restaurants have already done.

It’s time.

.:.

Cover photo by Marcin Wichary, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Crystal Luxmore, used under Creative Commons license

“Brewed the hard way”

Nothing like a quick down-and-back to Niagara on the eve of spring, amirite? CBJ+M drove us to our friends’ place in Niagara-on-the-Lake, stopping at a few wineries (Rosewood, Hidden Bench, Kew, Kacaba, and Stratus), a brewery (Silversmith, which was excellent), the Pie Plate, and The Merchant Alehouse in St. Catherines for lunch.

Our friends laid out a huge cheese & charcuterie board, and green salad, and chicken tagine with couscous, and many bottles of wine. Pie and cocktails (Avaiations, Boulevardiers) served as dessert, and then we crashed. This morning we woke up with coffee, bagels, and a fry-up of bacon and eggs.

Here’s what followed us home from the wineries:

  • Hidden Bench 2010 Tete de Cuvée Chardonnay (x2)
  • Kacaba 2012 Cabernet Syrah
  • Kacaba 2012 Rebecca Rosé
  • Kew 2011 Heritage
  • Kew 2011 Blanc de Noir
  • Kew 2012 Traditional sparkling
  • Kew 2012 Pinot Noir
  • Rosewood 2012 La Fumée
  • Rosewood 2013 Sussreserve Riesling
  • Rosewood 2007 Ambrosia honey wine
  • Stratus 2007 White

.:.

Cover photo by Crystal Luxmore, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Ken Lewis, used under Creative Commons license

Should’ve Led with the Zeppole

Membership does have its privileges.

The lone wine club to which we belong — Tawse — netted us an invite to a special event last night: a 6-course tasting menu at Campagnolo restaurant, long on my to-hit list, in which the food would be paired with wines from the new Tawse offshoot winery, Redstone. We sat at the tasting bar with another couple, and shared cooking tips and winery recommendations, and watched the kitchen do their thing. Here’s what the kitchen hit us with:

Daisy Bay oysters
2012 Limestone South Riesling

Scallops and saffron with carrot butter and sicilian lemon
2011 Redstone Chardonnay

60-day aged beef tartare with truffle sauce and brioche
2010 Redstone Vineyard Syrah

Celeriac agnolotti with chanterelle mushrooms and tallegio
2010 Redstone Vineyard Merlot

Roasted Ontario lamb rack and braised lamb neck with swiss chard and toasted farro
2010 Meritage

Rhubarb zeppole
2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine

The food was spectacular, and the wines were VERY good. I think Redstone will be a great compliment to the Tawse lineup, adding varietals like Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a very different Riesling. Both winemakers — Paul Pender from Tawse and Rene Van Ede from Redstone — were on hand to talk about the wines, and I’m looking forward to where this could go. Side note: it turns out Paul Pender has (had?) ties to Springhill, NS, near where I’m from.

Here’s hoping Tawse and Redstone throw more shindigs like this.

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.:.

Cover photo by Ken Lewis, used under Creative Commons license