Posting this at Mockingbird:Robin am

Uh…so, we went up to our friends Kaylea + Matt’s Bat Lake cottage last weekend, but I’ve waited so long to write this that I’ve forgotten all the clever things (or, all the things I thought clever at the time) I’d planned to use for the title, or interesting color for the weekend. I just remember that we ate well (obviously) and drank even better (still obviously) and relaxed and played some Cards Against Humanity and did a Pinot Noir blind tasting and ranked the Canada Heritage Minutes and spotted birds and visited Boshkung Brewery and I made everyone watch basketball and Nellie barely made it home.

Heluva Good dip weekend

Last week our friends Kaylea & Matt offered to have us up to the cottage. We accepted; I needed a weekend off, and Nellie really needed a weekend off.

We dashed out of work and caught a Go Train to Barrie, where Kaylea picked us up and brought us to their place. We celebrated by breaking out some sparkling:

We had reservations at the Local Gastropub and, after some taxi qualms, took our seats in a booth by the bar. I had the battered cod n’ chips; Nellie had the triple smoked ontario bacon mac n’ cheese. We were in the mood for apostrophes apparently. I drank a Wellington brown ale and a Side Launch dark lager. We cabbed home and all fell asleep in front of the TV. It had been a long day.

The next day Kaylea had to work so Matt, Nellie, and I went for breakfast at the Midway Diner, which is exactly as authentic as it sounds. Nellie and I had full-on greasy breakfast: sausage (bacon for her), eggs, hash browns, toast, OJ, coffee/tea. It was goddamn delicious, and it more or less held us over until dinner.

Once Kaylea got back we loaded up the car, made a stop at Barnstormer for some beer, and drove to the cottage. We relaxed for a bit with some Barnstormers and then two amazing bottles of sparkling — a Benjamin Bridge 2008 Estate Brut which had just arrived in our mailbox that day, and a Two Sisters “Lush” sparkling rosé — until it was nearly dinner time, and Matt began prepping the meal.



And quel meal it was:

  • roasted red pepper soup with shrimp and cumin (Creekside 2012 Reserve Viognier)
  • salmon in beurre blanc (Pentage 2012 Sauv Blanc / Semillon)
  • pappardelle with sausage and tomato (Niagara Teaching College 2011 “Dean’s List Desicatto” Cabernet Franc)
  • grilled ribeye (Black Hills 2013 Nota Bené bordeaux blend)
  • Pilliteri 2008 merlot icewine

We did our best to absorb all that, and eventually all fell asleep from the effort.


The next morning we all slept in, except for when Kaylea’s phone alarm went off and it sounded like a jaunty police chase. Once we finally woke up Matt and Nellie prepared another big greasy breakfast (plenty of bacon, eggs, toast, Caesars, etc.) and we generally lay about for the whole day. Well, Matt and Nellie went for a walk, and I did some work, and we all watched many hours of news, but other than that: layabouts.

Finally we had to pack up the car, load up on Tim Horton’s, drop Matt off back in Barrie, and drive down to Toronto. The remaining trio of us ordered pizza, settled in to watch The Walking Dead, and went directly into pyjama mode.

Good weekend. Great weekend. But I’m going to pay for it this week.

Navy strength

On Wednesday Nellie and I rushed out of work (early; it was New Year’s Eve, after all) to come home, pick up our stuff, collect a couple of friends, and start driving north. We had all been invited to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends Kaylea & Matt at their Bat Lake cottage.

We worried about the forecast, but with little reason: we made the drive with almost no issues save the usual traffic slowdowns on the DVP and 401, and a few minor snow squalls along the way. After a stop or two we arrived just in time to watch the second half of the Canada/USA World Junior game. Canada won. Of course.

There were ten of us in total, and we were the last four to arrive. On top of what we’d brought, the place was already full of food and drink (including a 30L keg of beer). We hugged our hellos, poured a drink, snacked on meats and cheeses, and settled in. After a while the chef (Matt) and sous (Nellie) began preparing dinner. Though, Matt had been preparing some of it all day, smoking a brined chicken and a lamb shoulder. There was also beef (not sure where that came from, actually) and Nellie made scalloped potatoes with chorizo sausage, and we all plowed into it. We’d also been drinking some tremendous wines brought along by Kaylea’s friend Jordin, including an Italian style I’d never heard of (and can’t remember, dammit), a beautiful Barbaresco, and this amazing Barossa F.U. Shiraz (seriously) that was massive (17.5%!) and complex and puzzling. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to try it again.

We played some Cards Against Humanity (I won; I am depraved) and then got bundled up so we could go out to where Matt had set up a fire. We stood around it, enjoying the warmth, and eventually sliding around for a bit on the lake itself, as the ice was plenty thick.

By midnight we were back inside, ready to drink a Magnum of another stunning wine: a 1998 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or. It was Out. Goddamn. Standing. It was a fitting way to pay tribute to 2014, and welcome 2015.

We’d all had busy days, and had all been eating and drinking since 5pm (or earlier), so everyone crashed around 1:30. The next morning we slowly stirred ourselves, did a token clean up, had coffee from Fahrenheit, ate bacon and cranberry french toast, and drank breakfast Caesars.

Most people went out for a winter walk, but I stayed behind with downstairs Jeff (it’d take too long to explain the moniker; just go with it) to help clean up and then relax. The crew had taken warm cider with them; I poured myself a cup (with a little Navy Strength gin thrown in for good measure), sat by the window, and nerded out with Matt’s copy of The World Of Ice & Fire.

Eventually everyone came back from their trek…some got cold and came in to warm up, while others tried to light another fire. I waited until it was going strong (I’m a sissy, and no longer of any use with outdoor things) before joining them.

We drank Winter Ale and Okanagan wine by the fire, taking shelter from the snow and wind amongst the trees, and felt about as Canadian as we could feel.

Eventually we too got cold, and went back inside for more food, and a Cards Against Humanity speed round (Steph won; she is depraved). For dinner Matt had made chili, and it was the most amazingly delicious chili I had ever eaten. It was sweet and spicy and the perfect consistency. I went back for seconds. I had to talk myself out of thirds. As it was I just kept taking great heaping spoonfuls of it from the pot and shoving them in my gob.

We weren’t done with the outdoors; a few of us wrapped up again and went back to the lake. It was so dark, and so snowy, that you couldn’t see the other side of the lake. Just a faint outline of the tops of trees amidst a Hoth-like blank spot on the earth. I’ve lived in the city for so long I’d forgotten how quickly winter can create this sense of distance and danger, even when you’re only a few hundred feet from a warm house.

Back at the cottage everyone was starting to wind down, or already napping. We were full of food and drink and tired from the cold. My body began rejecting everything…any more food, any more drink, being awake at all. Nellie began folding laundry. Began, never finished. We were all wiped, apart from upstairs Jeff who watched George Carlin’s classic Seven Words sketch on late-night TV. As one does.

I woke up Friday morning worrying about how I would get our rental car up a snowy driveway, but then the local Mr. Plow showed up and saved the day. We cleaned the place as best we could, scarfed down some scrambled eggs and toast, packed up, and jumped in the car with our charges to head home. Nellie and I had to get back to the city for a 3:00 puck drop in the first World Jr. semifinal. Fortunately it got less snowy as we drove south, and we had no problems on the way home (extreme nausea and over-full bladders excepted) and we hit Toronto by 2:15. We offloaded our stuff, put our travel companions in an Uber limo, dropped the rental car, and made it to the ACC just in time for the game.

It was a weekend of celebration: the new year, superb people, the Canadian outdoors, and plenty of amazing food and drink:

For the record, that’s 8 bottles plus 1 magnum of champagne, 5 bottles plus 2 magnums of red wine, 3 bottles of white wine, 1 bottle of port, 6 large bottles of (strong) beer, and the better part of the rum, scotch, gin, and vodka. Plus about 2/3 of the keg in the background and a while bunch of tallboys we didn’t even bother to count.

Night, 2014. Morning, 2015!

Matthew Danger

If you’re going to have friends, have friends who know wine and who can cook and who have access to a great cottage and who like to share and who are generally just the best. This was our weekend:

Matt smoked some ribeyes…

…while we opened the vertical of Bachelders Chardonnays we brought: the 2009, 2010, and 2011…

…and brought the last bottle down to the dock…

…to watch the sunset.

Seriously, look at that.

Couldn’t have asked for a better spot to enjoy a special wine.

Sunset turned from yellow to red as our night ended.

The next day we tallied the damage. Beer not included.

Sunset the next evening was almost as spectacular…

…and paired with beer this time…

…as the last of the clouds drifted away.

There was even time for a little fishing before dark…

…and the evening’s campfire.

Day 2’s consumption. Much of this went with a feast of lobster, shrimp, scallops, and squid.

All weekend we were entertained by chipmunks, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and the odd hummingbird. We also did battle with a squirrel.

If there’s a better weekend than relaxing in that place, swimming in that lake, eating that food, drinking that wine, all with those friends, I haven’t found it yet.


Side note: all of these pictures were taken with our phones, sans filters.


Last weekend, by the grace of good friends Matt & Kaylea, we made our now-annual pilgrimage up to a cottage in the Kawarthas. We stopped in Barrie on the way up to pick up a passanger and to eat some pizza & charcuterie cured meat, cheese, and Peruvian olives. We made it to the cottage that night, and crashed shortly after.

The next morning I woke up to this:

…met a new friend:

…went for a swim:

…lay in a hammock:

…ate some lunch, with a very special bottle of wine: a Benjamin Bridge 2004 Brut Reserve:

…smoked a pork shoulder (well, watched Matt smoke it):

…and went for another swim:

See how calm the water is there? Yeah, so did the resident mosquito population, and they ate me alive. Could be worse though: I could have gotten as badly sunburned as Nellie.

Friday was a rapid-fire drive north through traffic, and Sunday didn’t amount to much other than rain and buttermilk pancakes, but Saturday…bacon, sunshine, swimming, sparkling wine, swimming, pulled pork, swimming, camp fire…Saturday was glorious.

Matthew’s Magical Mennonite sausage

After a delicious but cold excursion back in April, our friends Matt & Kaylea invited us back to their cottage last weekend. Things worked out much better this time, weather-wise. To wit:

That’s what greeted us as soon as we arrived. We shook off the ride up, drank a beer on the dock, and watched this happen.

After a fine feed of sausages (including the titular Mennonite sausage) and charcuterie and cheeses and baguette, as well as bottles of Le Clos Jordanne 2009 “Le Grand Clos” Chardonnay and Thirty Bench 2008 “Triangle” Riesling on the deck, we settled around a camp fire, Nellie’s one request for this trip.

The next morning we partook of some bacon and Fahrenheit coffee we’d brought with us. And spent a lot of time down here:

After a couple of swims, Matt started smoking a lamb shoulder using cherry wood, while we shared a few special bottles of Garrison Ol’ Fog Burner barleywine (and a bottle of Blanche des Honnelles). Later, as dinner approached (and following another swim) we drank bottles of Five Rows 2012 Pinot Gris and Hinterland 2012 Ancestral sparkling. All were excellent.

Finally, when the lamb was ready for us, we paired it with bottles of Tawse 2009 “Cherry Ave” Pinot Noir and Malivoire 2010 “Old Vines” Marechal Foch. We had to go for a walk after dinner so that I didn’t fall into a lamb coma.

We also put down bottles of Peninsula Ridge 2007 “Inox Reserve” Chardonnay, Kacaba 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malivoire 2012 Pinot Gris before the night was through. All tasty, naturally,

The next morning brought more bacon — peameal, this time — and more coffee, followed by one last swim. Then came the long drive back to…ugh, wherever. Not the cottage. Not here:



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.

Drive it in

It’s not often we get out of the city on a weekend to spend time at a cottage. Luckily our friends Kaylea and Matt are awesome and invited us up to their place on a quiet, pretty lake on a near-picture-perfect weekend. We ate a lot of food and drank many, many drinks and swam in Bat Lake and cracked up pretty much the whole time. A few of the highlights:

  • A warm lake, perfect for swimming in and boating on
  • A whole brined+smoked+grilled chicken that melted in our mouths
  • One of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen
  • Cherry pie
  • Impromptu dance party
  • Lake of Bays mini-keg!
  • Being the only one of the four of us not to drop a bottle or glass…I did, however, accidentally drop myself into the lake
  • “Give me some ringolos, I’m f*cked!”
  • Ten great bottles of wine, including a special treat: the 2001 Closson Chase Chardonnay I bought at auction a few months back — it seemed a little funky at first but ended up being pretty amazing…it was pretty special to share it at sunset, sitting on a dock with great friends

No thieves, fakirs, rogues or tinkers. No skulking loafers or flea-bitten tramps.

This past weekend we partook of an Toronto tradition: braving northbound traffic to spend a night or two in nature, then braving the same traffic again heading back toward the city. Thankfully our friend’s cottage is on the right (right) side of Lake Simcoe so we avoided the worst of the weekend traffic and instead just got to enjoy the cottage and their company.

There was food and drink (the latter mostly VQA!) in our 24 hours there. There was kayaking and sitting on docks. There was sunshine and turtle-catching. There was peach pie and a Nova Scotia flag. Most importantly, there was beautiful weather and relaxation with friends.

Traffic can suck it.