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.


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.

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]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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