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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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Cheapest Dinner and Dessert

Now that we have had to start transiting out in one direction, it only makes sense to start stacking our fooding adventures if it makes sense. And so one evening we found ourselves on the subway going to Eglinton West. The plan was to go to Randy’s and grab the best Jamaican patty for dinner. Not exactly our usual dinner style, we ate our beef patties (the chicken and veggie were sold out) as we walked to our next destination: Doce Minho bakery for best Portuguese custard tarts. I kept burning my mouth trying to eat the beef patty, I was hungry and it was delicious. It was difficult to wait for it to cool. It got a bit messy at one point as the filling oozed out when I bit into it. The beef patty had a nice spicy kick to it. The custard tart was only ok. It was by no means better than the ones at Venezia. Those were amazing, I still dream of them sometimes. It might be that the ones from Doce Minho were not warmed up, but even still that would not have closed the gap. So far dinner was very inexpensive, we had not even broken $15. Yet.

We still had one more place to go, dessert stop number two of the evening. La Paloma on St. Clair near Dufferin had recently been voted best gelato. It was a hot summer day and we were already on Dufferin St., it only made sense to go there. I’ve yet to have bad gelato, but would this be better than Dolce Gelato? It is hard to say, really they are on par. At first when I looked at the cup size, small seemed tiny. And even though in a small you could only try one flavour, I decided not to risk it. I was right not to, the scoop was huge and bulging over. It would have been far too much to get the next size up. Of the three flavours (Brent had a medium size and two flavours) the amaretto (i.e.: the one I had chosen) was by far the winner. The gelato cost more than the tarts and the beef patties combined.

It was a long slow walk back home. It took us just over 2 hours to get back. Pretty soon we will have to start transiting both ways.

 

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The Best Soup Ever

I recently came across a recipe for butternut squash soup and I could not resist. I had to make it that day. There was no waiting, it is gourd season!! I was a little weary after my last foray into autumn-themed cooking with the apple cider turned out to be a bit of a bust.

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (1)

I was afraid I would break the bank with this one. Butternut squash sounds decadent and expensive, what rich people use in place of pumpkins. I could not have been more wrong. I had no idea butternut squashes were so cheap, I paid $2 for a rather large one. The recipe from the Foodnetwork, is very simple and straightforward. The only other ingredients were chicken stock, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (2)

The recipe is rated as intermediate level of difficulty, quickly glancing over I had no idea why this was so. I only understood once I got to the peel & chop part. Butternut squashes are hard, therefore cutting them is less than fun (unless of course you have a super crazy sharp knife). After a bit of a struggle I was done, and the counter-top was only slightly covered in squash innards and seeds.

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (4)

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (5)

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (6)

My batch took a while longer to boil seeing as I have only one functioning burner on my stovetop, one of the small burners. I checked if the squash had been cooking long enough by smushing it with a spoon. I had to use a sieve to fish out the squash pieces, for some reason I had completely forgotten that I had a slotted spoon (in my defense I had never used it once). I also was worried that my blender might die, I had to blend the squash pieces in smaller batches. Then all I had to do was mix the puree back in with the stock, and voila! Soup!

Project 49- food network butternut squash soup (7)

I didn’t even wait for it to cool. As soon as I had seasoned it, I had a giant bowlful. It was heavenly, this has to be my favourite recipe of all time. So much so, that a week later now, I am down to one bowlful, and I have sitting on my counter another butternut squash. I will be eating butternut squash soup until the season ends. Maybe even later… can you freeze butternut squash?

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in I Will One Day Attempt To Make This

 

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Rosemary’s Chicken

At St. Lawrence Market I found an awesome deal on a giant bone-in chicken breast: the enormous thing only cost me $9 and it put everything in the grocery store to shame. I had this amazing plan to throw it in the slow-cooker with some white wine and herbs (hence the original title of Drunk Chicken).

Project 48- white wine slow-cooker chicken breast (1)

All well and good, however the chicken did not fit in my slow-cooker and yet again I had to carve a raw chicken. I have done it so many times it does not gross me out at all. It is just time-consuming and messy. I had forgotten to buy an onion and had run out of garlic, but thankfully Brent had honoured my request and picked them up for me. Up until now I have avoided onions in the kitchen, I hate them and they make me cry easily. It never occurred to me that I could chop one up and freeze it! No more ignoring onions in recipes.

Project 48- white wine slow-cooker chicken breast (2)

Project 48- white wine slow-cooker chicken breast (3)

After a couple of hours the apple cider smell in the house was replaced with a chicken smell, causing a mild panic as I had forgotten completely about the chicken and thought that somehow burnt apple cider smelled like chicken maybe? I don’t know, I was very confused.

The chicken is good albeit too heavy on the rosemary and I would put half the amount called for next time. There will be a next time, it is still so delicious.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in I Will One Day Attempt To Make This

 

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Mathematical Turkey

I downloaded a fancy new app for my iPad (you know, my bestest friend in the whole wide kitchen?) and was confident about tackling a turkey breast (just one, gotta start small and I alone can only eat so much). What I did not realize was that the app would not be too kind to my math needs. I did not get a proper result for 1/6th of a teaspoon.

Project 46- herbed slow-cooker turkey breast (1)

At some point I was standing there, holding  1/4 teaspoon and  1/8 teaspoon measuring spoons wondering out loud how much of each I needed to get 1/6th. There were fractions converted to decimal points and calculators involved. It was not pretty.

In the end I actually needed double what I had. No way was I going to re-do all those calculations (no way I could remember them). I winged the second half and you know what? The turkey turned out delicious.

Around hour 5 you could really smell like the slow-cooking turkey, it was making me so hungry. To the point that I kept cutting off little pieces of it as I stuffed it into Tupperware. It had just bumped my baked chicken fingers from being the next day’s dinner.

Also: slow-cooking turkey avoids the hassle of dry meat.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in I Will One Day Attempt To Make This

 

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Mangled Cornish Hen Anyone?

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (1)

A long time ago I had spotted what looked like the cutest little roast chicken ever- it was a cornish hen. I made a mental note of it and decided that one day I would cook one of those lil suckers. That day finally came when I went to No Frills and the only chicken they had was ground chicken, so I opted for a cornish hen instead (basically a mini-chicken). It was so small, how hard could it be? After browsing through recipes until I came across one that did not involve using kitchen shears to “remove the spine” (shudder) I finally found a reasonable one at the Food Network website: Roasted Cornish Game Hens. Season the chicken, stuff it with onions and veggies, cook it. Voila, easy as pie. No.

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (2)

 

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (3)

To start with, I decided to cut slits in the skin and peel it back a bit to season the meat itself (I had no intention of eating the chicken skin, bleh). It quickly took on a rather horrific look, no matter, I wrapped it in foil and stuck in the oven. An hour passed and I checked on it, it looked cooked, I did not have a meat thermometer to verify though. I started to cutting it into four quarters when I realized that inside it was still pink… and a bit bloody. It had cooked for an hour!!!

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (5)

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (6)

I threw it back in the oven for another half hour, should be enough right? Nope. As I cut further in I had the same problem. That was it the (oven) gloves were off. I grabbed a knife and started carving angrily. An hour and a half and still not cooked?! I made a mini-bowl out of tinfoil and tossed the chicken pieces in it, added some more spices and the red pepper and garlic bits from inside the hen, wrapped it up, shook ti a bit and put it in the oven for another 20 minutes- finally I had some cooked chicken emerging from the oven. After almost two hours of cooking mind you.

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (7)

 

Project 45- roasted cornish game hens  (8)

There, I did it. I cooked a cornish hen… and I will never, ever in my life do it again. Ever.     

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in I Will One Day Attempt To Make This

 

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