The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Today was my birthday. My 42nd birthday, as it happens. It was a crazy weekend, though my birthday had little to do with that.

First up was a visit by brother #2 on Thursday. We met after work at the Keg near his hotel, and ate some piles of meat. After that Lindsay and I retired to Chez Nous where Laura poured us some off-menu treats.

On Friday, we were off to nearby Project Gallery Studios for an opening, after which we hung out with a couple of the artists and their friends at Aft until the wee hours.

Saturday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed, loaded up on breakfast and snacks at Bonjour Brioche, then drove north to the Hockley Valley Resort for a wedding. We got there in enough time to eat lunch at the wine bar and change for the wedding. The meal was excellent, and very long, and then the party started. We lasted until about midnight, then retired to our room.

When we arrived I discovered a surprise: Lindsay had gifts and balloons(!) waiting for me: a Secrid wallet, October by China Miéville, and a promise to go see Dunkirk next weekend. Whatta girl.

After some much-needed breakfast this morning we stopped at Adamo Estate winery (which is owned by the same people as the resort) to pick up a few wines we’d tried at the resort, then enjoyed the pretty ride home. The rest of Sunday was relaxing, eating, and watching GoT.

Return to the County

We spent Saturday and Sunday in Prince Edward County. I kept telling people I hadn’t been there in two years. I was wrong — it’s been three years. No wonder it felt like such a different place.

We left Saturday morning, arriving in Hillier around lunchtime. I reckoned our first stop should be wood oven pizza at Norm Hardie’s, but that plan blew up when the line of cars extended so far down the driveway we knew we wouldn’t get a table. We didn’t even stop, just did a U-turn and came up with a plan B.

Since we were right there we tootled down the road to Rosehall Run. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with that winery, so I wasn’t sure which we’d get. Turns out it was the latter. The tasting room was slammed. It was tough to get someone to pour for us, and when they did they handed us plastic patio glasses. You know, the ones with the thumb groove. We mentioned that to a few other wineries, who reacted with horror. We didn’t like much of what we tried, but did leave with a 2014 JCR Pinot Noir.

I figured we might as well start the journey down Closson Road, and we started at Hinterland. I warned Lindsay that there are often one or more woohoo-y bachelorette parties at Hinterland; sure enough, one was occupying half the tasting bar when we got there. The other half was subsumed by picture-taking tourists. This was not the county I remembered. This was not the peaceful experience I’d described to Lindsay over the summer. We contemplated leaving, but then managed to squeak into one corner so Lindsay could try the sparkling. She already knew she liked the Whitecap; she bought a 2013 Blanc de Blancs to take away. Suddenly, the tasting room emptied (after the bride forcibly extracted her future bridesmaid Caitlin/Caitlyn/Catelyn/Kaitlyn/Katelyn from the bar so they could continue their reign of terror) and the County was peaceful again.

We decided to eat lunch at the County Road brewery/restaurant next door, which wasn’t even there in 2014, but was now packed to the gills. We shared tomatoes with sourdough and local mozzarella, and beer bratwurst with pickles, and Lindsay tried a few beer samples. While there we met up with our friend Duarte, who lives in the County now, bought some beer, and followed him to our next winery: The Grange of Prince Edward.

I’d been to The Grange before and hadn’t been impressed, but either their wine has improved or my palette has, because a few months ago we shared a bottle of their Estate Cab Franc and loved it. Duarte gave us the grand tour and we tasted through their wines; we eventually left with three bottles of the 2013 Estate Cabernet Franc, two of the 2012 Brut Rosé, a 2013 Estate Chardonnay, and a magnum (!) of the 2014 Pinot Noir / Gamay. The tasting room was mad — we were definitely getting the stinkeye from others who weren’t receiving the same personal attention, and there were no fewer than three bachelorette parties present — but it was a wonderful stop.

We drove down Closson with the intention of stopping at Closson Chase, but the swarm of cars out front warned us off. Instead we drove a little further to the peace and quiet (and delicious Pinot) of The Old Third. We chatted, reveled in the beautiful (and calm!) barn, and bought a bottle of their 2015 vintage. We were finally finding our County groove.

Our last winery of the day was one I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago (hot tip from Laura at Chez Nous Wine Bar) called Domaine Darius. The grounds look like a hobbit’s garden, while the tasting room, a small underground cave, does nothing to dissuade you from that comparison. But the wine? The wine was fantastic. So unexpected, and so different (for the most part) from what I’d expect in the County. We tasted all three they had on offer (2016 Gewurztraminer, 2016 Chardonnay, and 2015 Cuvée red blend), and bought two bottles of each.

Our plan was to head to our AirBnb in Wellington, but we’d been told about one last must-visit: Parsons Brewing, just north of Picton. We took the back roads and found a much bigger operation than I’d expected: a restaurant with a huge outdoor space, families milling about, a bottle shop, and a small bar where we parked ourselves. Lindsay tried a flight, but my favourite was definitely the Grandpa Miguel’s coffee stout. I ended up buying a bottle of that and the Rinda Rinda to take home with us.

Finally, we opted to retreat to our AirBnb, which sat right on Lake Ontario. We had an hour or so to relax, and spent most of it on the back deck. I was done driving for the day, thankfully.

Dinner that night was at Wellington stalwart East & Main. We split the salad and beef carpaccio. I had the pork chop; Lindsay had the pickerel special. We had all this with an outstanding Closson Chase 2014 KJ Watson Pinot Noir. Creme brulee and bread pudding and coffees to finish it off, and we were finished. On the way home we were robbed by a cab driver from Cronkie’s Cab Company, who charged us $25 for driving us 900 metres. So much for the county vibe.

Determined to have a good time anyway, we went back to driving ourselves the next day. First up: Norman Hardie, attempt #2. We arrived just a few minutes after 11, having skipped breakfast to make sure we were good and hungry. We each got a pizza (which meant we had far too much, and took a whole one with us in the car) and baked in the sun, because the kid who seated us didn’t understand that by ‘cover’ I meant ‘shade’ and sat us where there was decidedly neither. Only after we hurriedly finished, already sunburned, did we see the breezeway with shade. Anyway. We went to the nice, cool tasting room and bought two bottles: the 2015 Cabernet Franc and 2015 Cabernet Franc Sans Soufre.

From there we fumbled around the back roads a bit before landing at Trail Estate. The last time I was there they’d just opened; now they’re a bit of a fancy operations, having also landed Hardie’s former assistant winemaker as their own. We liked everything they poured, and took both a 2016 Wild Ferment Riesling and a 2015 Cabernet Franc.

Our last winery of the trip was Closson Chase, now happily uncrowded. We picked a few samples and sat ourselves the beautiful (shaded) backyard, enjoying the wine (we bought a 2014 South Clos Chardonnay and a 2014 Churchside Pinot Noir), playing with a dog named Bella, and taking in the beautiful view. It was a perfect note on which to end our County visit.

On the way out of town we stopped for some dirty roadside ice cream (which is to say, the best ice cream) and made it back to Toronto without much hassle. All that was left to do was unpack everything and tuck away the age-worthy bottles for another day.

 

Fresh grilled peasant watches

Our art + good food weekend continued Saturday and Sunday. I’ll cover the art part later; for now there were some new (to me/us) restaurants to cover.

We wanted something simple with a patio Saturday morning, so we tried the lo-fi Opera House Grill for burgers and cheap beer and a plateful of onion rings the size of a turkey platter.

On Sunday we went back to Peasant Table, this time for brunch (I’d been before; Lindsay hadn’t) in a breezy window seat. My peasant breakfast was good, and huge, but Linds’ eggs benny was tops.

After a ton of errands (including ordering a new dining table — finally!) we stopped at the Fresh location on Shaw (my first time; definitely not Lindsay’s) for some big-ass bowls. My buddha bowl was delicious, and so big I couldn’t finish it. Lindsay’s beach bowl was similar. We shared real ginger ale and a green variant of their blue lemonade. (Don’t ask.)

We also tried Ruby Watchco. I’d been there years ago, shortly after it opened, but hadn’t been back since. We walked in without a reservation and lucked into a killer corner booth in the back. Everyone gets the same menu, but we did take one of the up-sells:

  • HEIRLOOM TOMATO AND CUCUMBER SALAD (with New Farms greens, feta, frisse, radishes, tomato caper remoulade)
    • 2015 Roussanne/ Marsanne ‘Cuvee Tradition’ Mas Carlot, Costieres de Nimes
  • FRIED CHICKEN TACOS (with mojo de ajo slaw, chipotle mayo, lime)
    • 2015 Prosecco DOC, Canti, Veneto
  • GRILLED FLANK STEAK WITH PARSLEY CHIMICHURRI (with Top Tomato Farm broccoli + tomato salsa, chorizo mac n’ cheese, green bean & bean sprout stir fry, and also some unexpected ratatouille they happened to have lying around)
    • 2015 ‘Reserve’ Baco Noir, Henry of Pelham, Short Hills Bench
  • ARTISANAL CHEESE (with sweet & sour eggplant, honey & pistachios)
    • 2015 Syrah, Chateau Maris, AOC Minervois
  • STRAWBERRY LEMON POUND CAKE FOOL (with sweet vanilla custard & cream)
    • 2016 Pinot Gris, Organized Crime Winery, Beamsville Bench
Cover photo from the Omaw website

Jed’s other festival

We spent our Thursday and Friday evenings attending parts of the Vector Festival here in Toronto:

Vector Festival is a participatory and community-oriented initiative dedicated to showcasing digital games and creative media practices. Presenting works across a dynamic range of exhibitions, screenings, performances, lectures, and workshops, Vector acts as a critical bridge between emergent digital platforms and new media art practice.

Thursday night was the opening was the launch party at Inter/Access, and while a bunch of what we saw was interesting, I was blown away by some of what we saw Friday night at Execute!  From Scene To Screen. From the site:

Vector co-founder Clint Enns curates an extraordinary screening that pays homage to the extravagant, edgy, and plain crazy history of the demoscene, a loose international community of programmers, hackers, musicians, and designers (originally involved in cracking video game copy protection) who create self-contained, audio-visual code-based works that range from minuscule visual abstractions to over-the-top epics. The majority of the work will be screened from executable files, rather than video, reframing the demo as a micro-cinema format.

He played the files using various emulators which got a little glitchy…which is part of the point. There were Amiga demos. Nintendo movies about Super Mario’s dementia. DOS animations. An unofficial video for a Grandaddy song (from The Sophtware Slump, which reminded me that I really need to re-listen to that album). Some kind of mutant hybrid where the file was both audio and animation.

There were Commodore C64 files, for fuck’s sake. And some of them made in this year. What a fascinating look into a scene that exists — somehow — out of sheer creativity and, I guess, patience. I remember C64 coding.

Also, when we left Inter/Access Thursday we had dinner at Omaw. I’d been wanting to try that place for a while, but it exceeded expectations. Here’s what came at us:

  • Excellent cocktails. Far better than the wine, frankly. If I go back I’ll stick with the cocktails.
  • Jambalaya fashioned into what looked like tiny balls of charcoal
  • A sheet of aged wagyu covered in peas and coffee succotash
  • Scallops with rice and coconut cream
  • Nashville hot chicken, basically five pieces of flattened boneless chicken covered in hot sauce. MY GOD this was good. I want it every, every day.

.:.

Cover photo from the Omaw website

 

Godspeed cherry carnita sunset

Just when I think I have a handle on this new neighbourhood it surprises me again. That’s what I love versus my old hood — it changes quickly.

Thursday we were walking on Queen, intending to try a Vietnamese place, when we walked by a brand new restaurant called Caribbean Sunset. I backed up and led us in, and we were pretty happy with that call — we had patties, and jerk shrimp and curry goat, and rice+beans and curry potatoes and cole slaw and salad, and a couple of Red Stripes. Pretty happy this is nearby now. We crossed the street afterward and had a few glasses on the patio at Chez Nous.

Yesterday a work event took us down into the port lands, where I’d never been before. It’s not really that far from this new neighbourhood either though, and I’d been meaning to try out Cherry Street BBQ. Lindsay, our friend/co-worker Amy, and I hit it after we left our work thing, and it was just what the doctor ordered: shade, air-conditoning, cocktails (we had quite a few bourbon lemonades), cold beer, and lots from the pit. We got ribs (not as good as Triple A), sausage (better than Triple A), brisket (about as good as Triple A), mac + cheese, and cole slaw. Clearly Triple A is my gold standard, and I remembered how much I miss it.

Today we were out looking for lunch when Lindsay noticed La Carnita was open. Typically they don’t open until 5, but today they were serving brunch (!) so we checked it out. We got these pulled pork shoulder sliders (which were pretty good) and churro pancakes (which were just about the best thing ever) and a couple of pints, so…yeah. One more brunch option in brunch central.

After that we did a bit of shopping, and I jumped on the 506 up Coxwell to Gerrard, where I intended to check out the new Godspeed Brewery. It looked like the restaurant had just opened, but I obviously wasn’t hungry, so I just grabbed two of each of the three beers they make (an IPA, a stout, and a Dortmunder) from the bottle shop. Or can shop, as it were.

Add that to the two wine shipments which showed up this week from Benjamin Bridge and TH wines, and I’m a well-fed, well-watered boy.

150

On Canada Day I was sitting in Your Father’s Moustache, a Halifax bar I haven’t been to in fifteen years, listening to some blues. The lead singer of Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band — Joe Murphy, presumably — interrupted one of his songs to talk about Canada Day, and how this 150th anniversary isn’t so cut-and-dried. He talked about the aboriginal peoples who were here for thousands of years before settlers arrived, before Confederation. It seemed an odd, but apt, place to hear it. I smiled and nodded. Lindsay applauded. Then we drank our drinks and listened to more blues.

Let me back up though. First: we weren’t in NS to listen to live blues. We were there for a planned vacation, not an unplanned whirlwind trip like two weeks ago, mostly to see my nephew graduate high school, but also to visit our families who live there. We’d flown out a week before Canada Day after eating a big, rushed brunch from Bonjour Brioche, and landed in Halifax in time for dinner at Lindsay’s mom’s house. We stayed there that night and rested up for a road trip.

Sunday

We’d all wanted to visit the Annapolis Valley wineries — me again, them for the first time — for quite a while, and it worked out nicely since a cottage Lindsay’s family likes is down that way. So we took two cars out toward Wolfville, ate at the excellent Port Pub in Port William, bought some Sea Level beer from their store (the cashier, it turned out, is the daughter of my friends M+LK), then hit some wineries.

After driving by Lightfoot & Wolfville and seeing that it wasn’t yet open, we started with Luckett Vineyards, which I hadn’t been to. I knew they had a beautiful setting, but I’d heard less-than-stellar things about their wine, so we were pleasantly surprised that we felt compelled to buy a bottle of white (Ortega) and red (Black Cab, a blend).

Next we drove to L’Acadie, which I’d visited years ago. When we arrived the place was overrun by passengers of the Magic Winery Bus, but we were spirited aside to a barrel where we tasted all five of their sparkling wines. They were hits with the ladies, and we left with some sparkling rosé after enjoying a few quiet moments post-bus-departure.

Next up was Gaspereau Vineyards, but as we approached we saw the bus again, so we sped on to my most coveted visit: Benjamin Bridge. It wasn’t easy to find, and we pulled in just as they were closing up, but they suggested we stop back the next day. We promised we would, and drove back to Gaspereau. Which was a gong show. My memories of this vineyard were of a quaint, scrappy contender, but this place was overrun by hordes of people ordering gimmicky samples (e.g., dessert wine in chocolate shot glasses), shirtless goons, pushy parties, etc. It was pretty awful. I couldn’t even stay in the tasting room. Pretty views though.

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Our winery visits ended there, and we drove on to the afore-mentioned cottage. I was more than happy to get out from behind the wheel, play some frisbee and ping pong, eat soem steak, drink some beer (from Sea Level) and wine (the Luckett red and the L’Acadie sparkling, which I sabred open), cook smores at the fire, and boil myself in the hot tub.

Monday

After a feed of fluffy pancakes Lindsay and I made good on our promise to return to Benjamin Bridge. This time it was empty when we arrived, and we sat down for a tasting. Their sparkling is just world-class, and to try it in that setting was simply extraordinary.

We weren’t quite done with the Valley yet, so we stopped at Luckett on the way out for lunch. Pete himself sat us at our table, and a nice server soon moved us up to an even more picturesque 2-top before our food arrived.

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Before long we were back in Bedford, then into Halifax for a brief visit with my mom & dad, then back to Bedford for a feed of pasta which pretty much knocked me out.

Tuesday

Tuesday got off to a bit of a slow start, just hanging out and eating leftovers and doing a bit of work and sampling beer in the back yard.

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Before long, though, we were driving downtown to meet Lindsay’s dad at the Stillwell beer garden just off Spring Garden Road. What a spot. What a lovely spot. I had two pints, and some snacks, and we all had some caramel/activated charcoal + vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream (a mouthful in every way) before heading back to Bedford and taxiing to the local Italian spot: Il Mercato. I’d been to the old one on Spring Garden, but this one exceeded expectations. We drank Taittinger, shared starters (shrimp, mussels), ate beef tenderloin and ravioli and rack of lamb, drank a lovely bottle of Antinori 2012 Chianti, forced in dessert, and all but rolled home and fall asleep whilst watching the latest John Oliver.

Wednesday

Another lazy morning. In what would turn out to be an all-seafood day, we began our meals with bagels + salmon + cream cheese, then left Bedford for my family’s farm. Partway there we stopped at Catch Of The Bay at Masstown Market, where the fish and chips had drawn raves from both my brothers. They were not wrong.

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From there we turned down the old shore road along the Minas Basin, rather than the highway, so I could show Lindsay the sights. We admired the view, stopped at That Dutchman for cheese, powered through a downpour, and stopped at Diane’s for clams and ice cream. Yes, we’d just eaten lunch an hour before, what of it?

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We arrived at the farm, said hi to the dogs and my parents, and once my brother and his family got home, hung out with them drinking the wine and cheese we’d brought.

Thursday

We awoke to find some absolutely delicious brown bread and coffee instructions. Bless my family.

We hung around for a bit, then did a little tour of the farm, then drove to Amherst for some groceries, then visited my old high school to see my nephew graduate, then celebrated my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, and finally had a celebratory beer with brother #2. One down, two to go. (Just kidding.)

Friday

On Friday we did a quick run to Truro with my mom, through thick fog and some absolutely pounding rain. While we waited for my mom’s appointment to finish we zipped into town and checked out Novel Tea, a bookstore / coffee shop. There were cool books and lovely curios and nice coffee and tasty snacks and Dylan/CCR on the speakers and I never wanted to leave. But leave we did, and pick up my mom, and drive back through more pounding rain to the farm, where we played crib (Lindsay beat me and skunked my dad) and came to a party for my nephew and had late night drinks involving a pork sword.

Saturday

Canada Day. I started it in the place where I feel most Canadian — the farm. It keeps calling me back. I couldn’t live there, but I love it more each time I go back. Same with the province as a whole. I find I miss it more each year.

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We said our goodbyes and drove back to Halifax, passing through yet another brutal rainstorm, then fog so thick we couldn’t see the harbour from the bridge. With less-than-expected traffic we got to our hotel and checked in just long enough to get cleaned up before heading out. We grabbed a (disappointing) coffee and some books from Trident before meeting up with Lindsay’s dad and brother at Your Father’s Moustache.

Which brings us back to where we started. I’ve had a complicated view of this Canada 150 celebration. Not that I don’t love my country, or believe strongly in it — I absolutely do, and am incredibly thankful that I live here. I cannot think of another country I want to live in, honestly. But we have to confront the things that are problematic about our country, and at the forefront of that is how we European settlers (and all those who followed) treated, and continue to treat, those who lived here first. And as much as we should celebrate the milestones of a mostly successful, mostly peaceful nation, throwing a year-long party for the 150th anniversary of what was, in fact, the drawing of lines by white settlers with no particular right to draw them (other than the right gained through force) just highlighted this particular sickness at our core. Look, I’m incredibly proud to be Canadian, but I want to be even more proud because we take a hard look in the mirror, accept that we can’t absolve ourselves of this particular sin, and look for ways to heal. So all that to say: we didn’t celebrate Canada 150 quite as patriotically as some did (and god bless), but I’m not sure the stumbling-drunk goons in the Sheraton lobby or the people at the Deadmau5 concert in the Commons were nailing it either. There was a range, we were in it (not against it), and I love Canada as much today as I did last week. So.

</rant>

Anyway. We walked back toward the hotel and stopped along the way for magazines at Atlantic News and a grunter (aka, mini-growler) of beer at Tidehouse before chilling hard at the hotel. We were resting up for dinner at Bicycle Thief, a restaurant we’d tried to go to our last time in town before something came up and derailed us. It was a mixed experience, frankly. The good: great table, nice server, delicious tuna tartare starter, very good seafood pasta second course, and good (if huge) mains. The bad: blah wine recommendation (I really need to trust my own judgment more), and a table of loud, obnoxious yobs next to us.

Much better was the new wine bar next door, Little Oak. We stopped in for a drink after dinner, and loved it. The decor, the laid-back feel, and the outstanding wine selection. Lindsay had a nice California Syrah, and I had a gorgeous Contesse de Cherisey Meursault 1er Cru 2014 pour from the Coravin. This will be a regular stop for me anytime I’m in Halifax from now on.

Sunday

We had a big ol’ lie-in in that Sheraton bed, trying to sleep off all the food. (It didn’t work.) Our only real plan for the morning was to visit the Seaport Farmer’s Market. And man, did we: coffee from Java Blend, a pretzel, crepes, jerk chicken, a bbq pork bun, noodles, groceries for lunch, and local salt to bring back to Toronto. All while staring out the window at the ginormous aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower anchored off George’s Island, and the Chilean tall ship Esmeralda, whose crew had mustered on deck as they departed.

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Stuffed and sufficiently-Halifaxed, we checked out, drove to Bedford for a few last visits (and games of crib), and drove to the airport for our flight home. The flight was unremarkable, except that they were serving Aberlour on the second leg, and we got to see the giant rubber duck as we landed in Toronto.