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Below EXpectations

Once again, that time of year snuck up on me. The CNE was in town and for the first time in years I was not there for opening day. Maybe that is what cursed this year’s two visits? The press releases of sneak previews of fair food failed to impress this year. Of the 20+ items I read about only one caught my attention/was something I had never had before: the deep-fried butter tart. Yes I was excited about the deep-fried cookie dough (who wouldn’t be?) but I had tried it a long time ago while in the States, so it was not new. I was intrigued by the crispy mustard-fried crickets on a hot-dog but I could not get past the fact that they still retained their cricket shape. All I could imagine was their legs getting stuck between my teeth like the straw from corn. *shudders*

I resolved to at least walk by the bug stand and look. I assumed the line would be out the door, thus giving me an excuse to find something else to eat. Not so, there was only one customer. They had a display hot-dog and I couldn’t do it, I chickened out. My sister had wanted a sushi burrito from SU&BU and one of the items on the list had been their take on the fish & chips done sushi style. But somehow it just did not seem all that appetizing, crispy wonton chips with salmon and roe- on a hot afternoon at the CNE? Plus I would be stealing a bite of the sushi burrito (call it a delivery service fee) so why get two things from one vendor? I was down to item three on my list of maybe-trys: The lobster and steak bao sandwich. It was ok when you got a mouthful of both, but at times it was just bun. And the lobster was served cold, while the meat was hot, therefore both ended up lukewarm. It was not a bad sandwich, but it was not amazing nor was it that wacky. We did not have time to grab dessert as it was time to go to the aerial acrobatics and figure skating show. As usual it was incredible and they amped it up again.

I vowed to do a better job for dinner. The plan was to get a poutine corn dog (sliced up hotdog, cubes of cheese and hash browns, all skewered battered and deep-fried) for dinner, followed by a double dessert: deep-fried cookie dough AND a deep-fried butter tart. Alas, it was not happening. I left my other sister in line waiting for the cookie dough (there were at least 10 people in front of her) and went off in search of the poutine dog. I could not find ti listed on the map in the Food Building for the life of me. I resorted to going to the information booth and sheepishly asking about where to find the poutine dog and the deep-fried butter tart. As it turned out the butter tart was all the way back at the midway. It got relegated to next time. The poutine dog was sold out, it too would have to be next time. I walked by Bug Bistro one more time, but still could not muster the courage (?) to order it. Tired, I gave up and just got a corn dog from the midway. The food building was crammed and I was getting hangry. I shouldn’t have been ignoring my phone, it turns out there were three different flavours of cookie dough. I don’t know why no one had mentioned this in the articles? Thankfully my genius sister got one of each. Oddly enough the best one was the red velvet, followed by chocolate chip with brownie coming in a dead last as it was far too rich.

Even though I had walked the 8km to the CNE from my house the previous day, the following day I set back out again. This time we were going to the CNE with our dad. During the planning of our CNE outings it had not occurred to us that going to the CNE two days in a row might be overkill. I had a spending hangover and a combination fomo/disappointment regarding the previous day’s food fails. I was desperately hoping to make it up on round two. This time I would have the poutine dog for lunch and then something wacky for dinner, grabbing the deep-fried butter tart in the afternoon when we pass by the stand.

The poutine dog was a salty, disgusting, nauseating fail. It was epic, but migawd it nearly killed me. And yet I kept eating it. I would take a bite, make a face, pause, sigh… and pick up the stick and start the process over again. Much to the amusement of my sister. It came with a side of gravy that I could not enjoy but that got me thinking: why don’t corn dogs normally come with the side of gravy? And my poutine dog was not exactly complete: it lacked the hash browns! They had been forgotten!! And the cheese was flavourless and all it did was sink into ever crook and cranny of my mouth and stick there. It was unpleasant. We never did find the deep-fried butter tart stand. By the evening I was so tired and my legs ached. I could not stand the thought of waiting in a long line, even though the Japanese-style fried chicken looked amazing. I instead got a hot dog, there was no line.

The actual highlight, despite all the food fails and misses was buying a venus fly trap plant which I am now trying to keep alive.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Saturday Afternoon Tea

In anticipation of our upcoming trip to England I was thrilled with the idea of going out for afternoon tea. The King Edward Hotel had been voted best afternoon tea, what better excuse to get our practice in? I set my expectations accordingly and joked about buying a tea gown and a fancy hat. The only complaint I had was that the only way to get a reservation was by calling. Boo to that!! Who makes phone calls anymore?!

It worked out that the walk to the King Edward took us near the best new bakery of 2015, Roselle Desserts, of course we had to go there first. The turtles tart did not disappoint, it was delicious- so long as you took tiny bites- otherwise the caramel would overwhelm. The chocolate eclair was a bit tough to eat with a fork, I wish we had gotten it to go so I could eat it like a hot dog or pizza i.e.: without a fork. The coconut crisp cookies were also delicious. The only flop was the double-chocolate sea salt cookie. It was too rich and too salty. Then again, who am I to say? I don’t really like chocolate cookies all that much (I know, *gasp*).

The chairs were fancy and when we sat down we were presented with two chests with tea samples for us to sniff. Brent ordered the second flush darjeeling (such a weird name) and I ordered a cream rooibos on our server’s suggestion. I was not disappointed, migawd the tea was good. Both were good. Alas, it was hard to swap teas halfway as our table was full what with two teapots, two tea cups and each a plate of sandwiches. Top it off with a tiered tray of scones and jams? The sandwiches were underwhelming and I am still not a fan of scones. The strawberry preserves were good though. Really, only the tea was a stand-out. That and maybe they won because they also serve alcoholic tea drinks? I was too full to try one. Full of mediocre sandwiches.

Verdict? Not as good as the Windsor Arms. Which is now somehow #10 on the list?! Maybe the list is in reverse order.

 

Dear Birds: Ssshh!!

Auntie’s & Uncle’s had recently been voted best french toast in the city, just in time too as we were running out of places within a walkable range. Unluckily because Auntie’s & Uncle’s opens at 9am and you have to be there at least 15 minutes early else you will have a long wait for a table. I had no trouble waking up early, as the birds outside my window decided to chirp incessantly and loudly around 7:30 in the morning. Granted it was just before I was supposed to wake up anyways, still I was annoyed. I got ready and proceeded to have a mini nap on the couch until it was time to leave.

We got to Auntie’s & Uncle’s and already there was one group ahead of us. We promptly took our place in line behind them, at least we had benches to sit on. No sooner were we seated, more people started showing up. By the time we were seated they were full and telling people they would have to wait. It made me secretly feel really good. I was unsure about what to order, having had the waffles last time and really being in the mood for greasy or meaty (otherwise the obvious choice is a croque monsieur). I lucked out, they had blueberry pancakes on special and in the last few years I have managed to quash my blueberry aversion*.

The french toast and pancakes both had little pats of butter on top slowly melting, making for some extra delicious top bites. The french toast, while delicious, was not as good as at School (thus that one is still the contender for best french toast in my books). The pancakes were crammed full of blueberries, each bite was so bursting with them. We looked up my post from last time to determine what I had ordered. The post mentions peeling airplane wallpaper and Bob Dylan playing over the speakers, both are still true.

Up next we walked over to Neo Coffee, down the street from my original alma-mater (and interestingly, fun fact, the birth place of the original of this blog) George Brown College**. Neo Coffee had been voted best new cafe of 2015. I was immediately smitten, they had a punny chalkboard sign outside. I cannot for the life of me remember the joke. The coffee was delicious and I was impressed with the selection. They had bagged coffee from many city roasters. Going along the shelf I rexognized most of them. I pointed out to Brent that this was my equivalent of his favourite beers and breweries. He did not seem to understand, (jokingly? I hope) saying that all coffee is the same. The roll cake was as good as a strawberry roll cake can possibly get, so moist and fluffy and not overly sweet. If this place had been open while I was at George Brown I could definitely see myself spending at least one day a week here.

 

*As a child I ate a whole plate of blueberry-filled perogies, a Polish delicacy I am told, afterwards I took a look in the mirror and to my horror discovered my mouth, tongue and lips were all tinged a horrible blue. Only a few years ago did I start sneaking blueberries in here and there to the point that now I can eat a blueberry yogurt- happily.

**Please don’t do the math of how long it has been.

 

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Burrito for the Win!!!

An afternoon outing to the pub warrants some late night burritos of course. Keep in mind that “late night” for me is like 7:30pm. Trouble is that we ate so much at the pub we were nowhere near hungry. The following day however we were both having regrets, thus our dinner plans were set: late night burritos. We would not mess it up this time by eating too much beforehand.

I could have sworn that Burrito Boyz was closer to my house. At least they had the option to order online, I could finally be as picky as I wanted. Alas, it was only for large orders. But I had already made up my mind, this was going to be the perfect burrito therefore I would be that one annoying person who does not just order everything. I slowly named off the toppings I wanted which happened to be about half, so I couldn’t even save myself with “everything except for.”

It was a long slow walk back, partly because I was hungry and partly because I was craving soda. Mostly it was because the weather forecast called fr rain so I wore rain boots with too-thick socks and now my feet were blistering and my legs were hurting.

I was wary of this burrito. Firstly there were way less options, only chicken, no other types such as baja chicken as I am used to at Fat Bastard Burrito. Secondly the toppings seemed to have been applied sparsely, I almost wanted to request more guacamole, she only gave me a small smear!! Then I took a bite. One bite and I was smitten. This was not just the best late night burrito, this was the best burrito period, in the city. The burrito sauce really made it. A new go to for us now.

 

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Ottawa Winterlude: Day 3

Mon. Feb. 15, 2016:
Train back to Toronto

We lucked out, it was family Day and that meant that the National Gallery of Canada would actually be open unlike on a regular Monday. On our walk back to the hotel yesterday we had passed a place near Byward Market called Planet Coffee, what better place to get my morning coffee fix from? Checking their Facebook page I discovered that they were going to participate in a hot chocolate competition at the market! I was way too excited about these prospects.

It was still cold out, a cool -21C but the weather report promised it would warm up as the day wore on. I caved into temptation at Planet Coffee and got a mocha with whipped cream, they were after all entering a hot chocolate contest therefore it must be good. Right? It was delicious and if it was any indication of the quality of their hot chocolate, they had the contest in the bag.

Byward Market was very small and not at all what I had expected. There were only a few vendors and it was just two rows of them. We peered down at them from the walkway above and decided that the wood-fired oven Montreal-style bagel place down below seemed like a good place to grab breakfast. It was fun to watch the bagels cooling near the oven, and it raised my hopes for breakfast. It was a really popular place and there were no free seats. The hot chocolate contest was only being set up, we decided if we had time we could pop by later.

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The herb and cheese bagel was amazing and it was crammed full of smoked meat, egg and cheddar cheese. My only regret was not having a drink on the side. By the time we were done breakfast and packed up the temperature had risen to -19C, a cause for celebration- even though we were walking one block. Still that one block was a cold walk, I only had on one pair of tights and one pair of socks and I did not double up my long sleeve shirts. We would be walking around a gallery for a few hours and it would be way too hot.

We had double lucked out at the Gallery, it was the last day of the Monet show. After having been to many art galleries I still do not understand contemporary art or colour block painting or any of the other weird stuff. We did get to see some gorgeous Inuit art pieces, the most miniscule carvings imaginable and it boggles the mind. This was the first time in a gallery or museum where I did not end up freezing cold. We managed to finish the Gallery in three hours, earlier than we had expected.

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We went to Dunn’s for smoked meat sandwiches. But we had so much time that Brent suggested we get the sandwiches for later and go elsewhere for lunch. Hooch Restaurant did not open until 5pm. There had been an Irish pub on my list and as Brent was about to look up the address to the Aulde PoorHouse I saw it across the street. The hot chocolate contest across the street was well under way and we figured it would make a good dessert option afterwards. We were in an Irish pub so of course I had to get the BBQ Guinness chicken wings. It was too early in the day for drinks, instead I opted for a green tea with lemon which was perfect after all the cold weather. The spicy curry chicken with fries was also delicious.

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They had managed to take down the event tent and everyone had cleared out. As we left the pub it was as if the hot chocolate contest had never even happened. They had vanished without a trace. Instead we stopped in at Sugar Mountain where I went a little overboard. It was a long slow walk back to the train station, my legs were dead. The stupid highway made our route quite inefficient as we had to make a giant detour to get around it. It made me mad because I could see the hotel near the train station yet we had to go all the way around, adding on an extra 15 minutes that felt like eternity.

In the train station Brent opened his smoked meat sandwich from Dunn’s and the pickle smelled so good I had to open mine and eat it, after all the pickle might make the sandwich soggy. I could not resist a bite of the sandwich. It was underwhelming to say the least, which is too bad as thus far all of our fooding had been quite good. The WiFi in the train station was lackluster and I was getting antsy. It did feel good to sit though. It turns out that being really cold really does a number on one’s body and is exhausting.

 

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Ottawa Winterlude: Day 2

Sun. Feb. 14, 2016:

As soon as I had climbed out from underneath the covers I was freezing cold. It was going to be another freezing cold day with the temperature hovering around the -30C mark (without the windchill). This time I put on regular leggings and fleece-lined leggings overtop. I also doubled up on socks. I thought I was a brilliant genius, how could I possibly end up cold with so many layers?! The outdoors was barely tolerable, I was glad that my breakfast choice was just the down the street. After about 10 minutes outside I was ready to warm up. Bluebird Café was wonderful, the coffee was amazing and the chocolate chip muffin hit the spot. We sat in the window, but there was not much going on for people watching save some people moving in across the street. The lady ran outside in a t-shirt and we both cringed and yelled at her (through the window, quietly) to run back inside.

We walked to Rideau Falls, passing a few embassies along the way and trying to guess the countries based on the flags. I did poorly. As we walked by the Canada Research Council Brent joked that the place was now empty thanks to Stephen Harper. The first half of the falls was unimpressive as the view was obstructed by the power generation station. It was cool to see that the mist from the falls had landed on nearby trees as a layer of fine snow. It was that cold outside. The second half was much more impressive and it looked so cool because it was frozen and misshapen. My hand froze as I desperately tried to take pictures with my cellphone. I had deemed it too cold to even bring my DSLR as I would never get a chance to use it. Seeing as we had already walked all this way, we continued on Sussex drive to the Prime Minister’s house. 24 Sussex Ave was well guarded and very uninviting, from what I could see, which was barely anything. It even had a wooden barricade, which somehow made it quaintly Canadian.

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Walking by the Royal Canadian Mint there was not much going on. Once we got to Majors Hill Park we were greeted with a strong and super cold gust of wind- and no Winterlude festivities. We had a good look at the canal and we could see Quebec across the river. We walked up to Parliament Hill but again, other than the increased police presence, there was nothing really going on. Except for renovations, there were a lot of renovations going on. The East Block was really pretty to look at. Even though I still have no idea what it is or what goes on there. On our way back to our hotel we passed by the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and made note of how to get back, for we were switching to that hotel in the afternoon.

I could not resist stopping at the Nestle Tollhouse Café for a small snack. We hung out in the hotel as I attempted to warm up while eating cookies. It was an easy walk to our next hotel as we had just come from that direction. We got there just after noon and thankfully they already had a room ready for us.

It was a 5 minute walk down to the canal from our new (and better and warmer) hotel. It was really scary walking on the ice on the Rideau Canal as we slowly made our way over to the skate rental place. We made a pit stop for beaver tails and hot chocolate. I downed the hot chocolate in one big warm gulp. The warmth did not last.

I did not last very long on skates, it had been years since I’d skated and I was really nervous. Add to that my foot cramping and the freezing cold. Yeah it was a poor show on my part. I skated a little way down the canal, at least I got past the people filming an A&W commercial. There’s my future cameo appearance in the background awkwardly and slowly skating to look forward to. Brent skated on ahead, I skated back to the rental place having been defeated. I walked up and down the canal looking down on the skaters below. It was getting really, really cold. I had resorted to taking photos with my nose (the joys of a touch screen).

Near the canal was Confederation Park. They had lots of ice sculptures and a demonstration and even an ice sculpture fire pit. Some of the ice sculptures had seen better days, we were there for the last few days of Winterlude, and they were falling apart. I was starting to get really cold. My double-socked feet were starting to go numb. As we circled the park I got free samples of cookies and tea. This was not enough to entice me to stay and watch any more demonstrations. I was freezing cold and I needed to go back to the hotel to warm up.

During our warm-up break I turned the heater to maximum and turned off the auto function. I brewed a cup of tea, grabbed my cookies and a bathrobe and headed to the heater. I pulled up a chair and wrapped the bathrobe around my legs and feet and over the heater. The tea was good, the sample had worked and now I am a fan of Four O’Clock’s almond biscotti tea. I was finally warm enough and before heading out I added one more layer, an extra long sleeve shirt. I was ready to go to the final location on our Winterlude tour.

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We crossed the bridge over the Ottawa River. The river was mostly frozen but had broken in some parts. Yet people were still walking out across it. It made me uneasy to watch.  Looking back we had a gorgeous view of Parliament Hill overlooking the river. Gatineau Park was where the fun was. They had made ice slides, however I was not going to risk getting my jeans wet and thus being uncomfortably cold again. Instead I watched Brent slide down. We did go down another slide in a two-person tube. It was dizzyingly fun, as we had requested being sent off with a spin. The last activity they had was the chance to go around a track with a dog sled. You could hear the dogs in the pen down below all howling, it was sad. And I was too cold to stand in line.

It was Valentine’s Day and we did not have reservations anywhere. The plan was to walk past the Murray Street Kitchen and peer in, if it did not seem busy we would have dinner there. The backup was to keep walking to Dunn’s for sandwiches instead. Murray’s didn’t seem too busy so we went in and asked about a table. They had one, however we would have to clear out by 7:30pm. It was just past 5pm, we looked at each other and at once understood we would be out of there way before then.

We decided to order the charcuterie as nothing else on the menu really caught our fancy. Again we got to choose which meats and cheeses (gouda, raw cow’s milk cheese, smoked duck, kiełbasa and headcheese). Once again the charcuterie was outstanding, I am beginning to think that Ottawa is a great place for charcuterie but I have no idea why. The nachos with beef heart were also delicious, especially because they were made with kettle chips. And the feta cheese was minimal. We had overheard from a nearby table that the poutine had been featured on a TV show (it was on You Gotta Eat Here) and we wondered if we had made a mistake? When the server came back with our second round of drinks we ordered it- without really knowing what we were getting. Poutine would obviously have fries, right? Not here it doesn’t, it was some weird doughy noodle-shaped things. It was a small serving but even still it was difficult to get through. Who does that? Who messes with poutine like that?

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On our way back we passed some kids that were booing every dinner option their parents presented and every business they passed. One of which was a cupcake shop, The Cupcake Lounge. We had not ordered dessert and it was Valentine’s Day, why not? I got the last maple cinnamon cupcake and Brent had the Oreo one which was way better.

I snuggled up under the covers and brushed all the cupcake crumbs off the bed. It was time for my all-time favourite vacation activity: mindless stupid TV! We watched Bob’s Burgers followed by an SNL Valentine’s Day special that was truly terrible. I flipped back and forth through channels, having lost my patience for commercials a long time ago. I kept switching between Family Guy and a comedy festival. I thought for sure John Cleese would be funny- he was not. And then there was nothing on which was fine by me, being freezing cold all day is exhausting.

 

 

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Ottawa Winterlude: Day 1

Sat. Feb. 13, 2016:
Toronto train to Ottawa

For Valentine’s Day Brent surprised me with a weekend getaway to Ottawa for the Winterlude Festival- which just so happened to coincide with the start of my reading week, so I was all in. Our VIA train was set to leave Toronto at 2 in the afternoon, but there was no way we were walking to Union station. It was about -35C with the windchill. The train ride itself was about 5 hours long. The Wi-Fi was weedy and I ended up doing all of the readings I had loaded to the iPad and I was unable to load any more. I resorted to getting mad at the browser on the iPad and constantly refreshing web pages for the last 40 minutes of the train ride.

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It was a freezing cold walk to the hotel from the train station once we got to Ottawa. It was unbelievable how cold it was. Under a minute of bare hands as I tried to put my earmuffs on over my hat and it hurt. Even with fleece-lined leggings under my jeans I was still cold. It was indescribable how cold it was, but in the air it was at least -30C and that is not even counting the windchill. We kept getting lost as the Google maps print out was not exactly clear. Then Brent’s phone started malfunctioning and restarting, it did not like the cold either. In fact only the 100+ crows we saw in the trees did not seem to mind. Eventually we had to resort to using my phone. Thankfully it had a touch screen and voice commands so my hand did not have to freeze. We stopped in at an LCBO just to warm up. However I had not turned off the turn by turn GPS on my phone and the nice lady was trying to give us directions from my pocket.

In hotel I cranked the heater to the maximum which was 26.5C and turned it off auto. I crawled under the blankets and snuggled in for some really crappy TV. Border Security was on and it fit the bill perfectly. I never managed to fully warm up and was shivering as I was getting dressed to go back out. I left the heater on in the hopes of returning to a warm and toasty room.

We had reservations at Brother’s Beer Bistro, I had not mapped it out beforehand and we lucked out. It was across the street from our hotel. Any further and we may have had to turn back. Despite an awkward wait with no service when we first entered, the restaurant soon won my heart. They had my all-time favourite beer, Mort Subite. I was overjoyed. We ordered a charcuterie plate because it had the option of picking and choosing the meats and cheeses. We settled on: chorizo, a smoked meat with a weird name and a soft cow’s milk cheese. The written description of the cheese reminded me of camembert- and it was even better. I was in heaven. The charcuterie board was amazing, possibly the second best one we’ve ever had. One of our choices for mains was sold out so we decided to order the beef short ribs (our other choice for a main) and see how we felt afterwards. The beef short rib was not impressive at all, the French fry underneath (yes, there were literally only two giant fries underneath) it was better than the rib. Having only split one main instead of two, we had room for dessert. We decided to change it up and not get the crème brulee (I know!) and got the beer brownie instead. It was topped with cinnamon honey ice cream and underneath there were strawberry preserves. I was worried about the banana cream on the side but it was delicious. I may be wrong about mild banana flavour, it might not be the worst thing on the planet after all. The brownie was delicious, it was still warm and just perfect. At the end of dinner I was still not fully warmed up, even though I had kept my scarf on.

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As we walked back to the hotel, a guy in the crosswalk yelled “stop right now… thank you very much” which was confusing, because if this was a reference to the Spice Girls song the next line is rather inappropriate to shout at a stranger.

After a hot shower and with the heater still going full blast I was finally starting to warm up. This was helped by the extra blanket I found in the closet.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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