Monthly Archives: February 2013

Wow!

Jamjarjude is such an awesome sister.  (https://girlwithadogandgoodshoes.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/its-like-yknow-totally-awesome-eh/

She took me out to my favourite restaurant in Nanaimo, the Hilltop Bistro (www.hilltopbistro.ca ) last night for a slap up meal to celebrate me finishing the first draft of my novel.

The Hilltop Bistro is in a pretty location on top of a hill in North Nanaimo, which very fortuitously is only a five minute walk from the house. It looked so cheery on a February night all decked out in lights.

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It’s intimate and cosy, and the kind of place where you’re inclined to dress up a bit without hauling out your whole designer wardrobe. Nice to eat in a place where no one is wearing sweatpants and running shoes.

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I love watching the chefs at work preparing their tasty offerings.

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Jamjarjude gave me a brilliant* card…

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…and we rubbed our hands in anticipation of the gustatory delights about to come our way. First there was an plate of piquant marinated olives and cornichons and cherry tomatoes…

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…just zingy enough to get our tastebuds zapping. Then a yummy amuse bouche of warm cauliflower soup with a dash of rich olive oil…

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which was unctuous and creamy and made me think entirely new thoughts about cauliflower.

We chose the wine pairing menu which is such a good idea I’m surprised more restaurants don’t pick up on it. How often have you been stuck with a full bottle of red when someone at the table is eating fish or chicken? Or a flowery chardonnay when you’re rearing to tuck into a slab of Texas steer? Here we had glasses of wines selected to match our respective dishes and it was fun to swirl and sniff and taste and pontificate about the vinous selections as we devoured our meals like two epicureans at a Roman feast.

We chose to order from the 3 course prix fixe menu and selected for our starters the beef carpaccio with roast garlic aioli, cornichons, capers and potato chips paired with Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay, California 2011 (me)…

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and smoked cod croquettes with tartar sauce paired with Nichol Vineyards Pinot Gris Naramata, 2011 (Jamjarjude).

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The carpaccio was thin as a butterfly’s wing prettily arranged with dabs of the aioli, cornichons and capers and decorated with little discs of crispy potato chips. The chardonnay was a surprise pairing for me, but the slightly buttery wine worked perfectly with the dish. Jamjarjude gave the croquettes a big thumbs-up saying that smoked cod was a revelation and the batter crispy and light and the Pinto Gris a tip top pairing.

For my second course, being in the mood for hearty fare and never known to resist game bird on a menu, I chose the crispy duck leg confit with sherry bacon lentils, frisee and poached egg…

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and Jamjarjude selected the diver scallops, parisienne gnocchi, pork belly, pearl onions, brussels sprouts and mustard sauce. Phew, that’s a mouthful.

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Our lovely waitress, who’s name I was remiss not to have asked, presented us with our wine pairings. Concha Y Toro Carmenere (Chile, 2011) for my duck and Joie Farms Riesling (Naramat, 2011) for the scallops.

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The duck was sublimity on a cloud of lentils, the meat falling off the bone, the lentils made delicious by the sherry and bacon and the little poached quail’s egg a surprising and well-considered addition, it’s creamy yoke adding a lovely gooeyness to the lentils and duck meat. The wine was a clever, clever pairing. It wasn’t only a pleasant accompaniment to the dish, but it’s blackberry/strawberry fruitiness added to the taste experience, which is what a perfect wine paring should do.

Jamjarude’s scallops were perfectly seared and had a melt-in-your-mouth quality which was augmented by the variety of rich flavours and textures offered of the pearl onions, brussels sprouts and gnocchi. The Riesling was light and delicate, a good match for the tender scallops.

Finally, it was dessert time. Yay! Foregoing my usual choice of something chocolate, I chose the baked goat’s cheese cheesecake with a blood orange marmalade and crushed almond topping…

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and Jamjarjude went with the chocolate terrine with smoked salt, olive oil, walnut and beignets…

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Our puddings were paired with a really delightful Elysium Muscat from Qady California. In fact, for me the two real star wine pairings of the night were the muscat with the chocolate terrine and the Concha Y Toro with the duck.

All too soon our culinary evening was over…

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…and it was time to pay our bill (thank you, thank you Jamjarjude, you’re the best sister ever — just don’t tell Tootsie) and stagger out into the night, a little plumper but with smiles on our faces.

Dinner for two with the 3 Course Prix Fixe menu and 3oz wine pairings was $57.00 each excluding tip.

*see awesome.

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Skunked!

Who knew that cribbage was such a bloodthirsty game? It is when your opponent is my sister Jamjarjude, AKA Crib Ninja.

It all started out so promisingly….

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…things were pretty even as we bolted out of the starting gate, but then on the second deal, Crib Ninja leapt ahead with an incredible score of 18 (Crib Ninja is blue, obviously)….

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… and showed me no sympathy whatsoever as she galloped ahead around the first turn.

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The one good hand I had (plenty of 15s)….

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was as nothing to her thundering gallop down the back stretch, secured by several misdeals and suspect tactics…

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…until I was left miles behind the Skunk line as she thundered down the home stretch to secure victory.

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Dirty, evil game. I demand a rematch!

Pub Night

Jamjarjude is in town again and that means a night out on the tiles. YAY! We headed off to our local, the Black Bear Pub for some supper (fish and chips for me, salad for her) and KENO. 

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 I followed my usual system for choosing my numbers, i.e., selecting the first four numbers that popped into my head, and Jamjarjude did her usual methodical selection of numbers meaningful to her. pub night 008

I had to dig around the bottom of my purse for the change, eventually giving up and dumping the contents of my purse on the table. Guys, so you want to know what a woman carries around in her purse? Here it is…

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…and here’s my purse.

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We paid our $6 each and watched the KENO numbers come up on the screen. Well, guess what? All four of my numbers came up (I knew they would)! And I won $100! We played a second round and three of Jamjarjude’s numbers came up and she won $10, and the third time we played two of my numbers came up and I won $2.00. So, all in all we hauled in $112! Subtract our initial investment of $12 and we were quid’s in! So supper was on me. 🙂

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After supper we thought we’d go stretch our pool legs (no not swimming pool) and we played two games…

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…which I won. Looks like my luck is changing. 🙂 🙂

P.S. Jamjarjude has just challenged me to cribbage. I’m in trouble now.

Oscar Night

When I was a teenager growing up in Quebec, Oscar Night was a big deal in our house. Mom was taking night courses at a local university back then and she’d invite a bunch of students to the house to hunker down with all of us on bean bags and cushions on the carpet in front of the TV to watch the Academy Awards. The first one I really remember is 1974 when The Sting won best picture. It was a big year for ragtime and 1930s style and Robert Redford and Paul Newman were gods on top of the Mount Olympus of filmdom.

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It was the year that a streaker ran behind presenter David Niven as he was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor to announcde the winner for Best Picture. David earned himself a place in Oscar history by saying, “Isn’t is fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

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Since that year, whenever I’ve had access to a TV that was broadcasting the Oscar ceremony, I’ve commandeered it for all the interminable hours the show was on (oh, why don’t they just cut the terrible musical numbers?), just to experience those few moments when the stars shone bright, right there on stage in all their glamour, spreading a little of their fairy dust my way.

So, this year, again, it was the stars i wanted to see…the divine Barbra….

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….the incomparable Meryl…

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…the ingenue Jennifer tripping on the stairs like Barbra Streisand did when she won her Best Actress Oscar for Funny Girl…

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…and wildman Jack….

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…and golden boy Ben…

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…and the witty, self-effacing and devastatingly handsome Daniel (oh, Rebecca, you’re a lucky woman!)…

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…so good I’m putting him in twice.

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We even got the First Lady announcing the Best Picture to Argo.

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Now, Argo. The Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without a little bit of controversy and this year Argo was it. The thing to remember about Argo is that although it’s based on the true events known as the Canadian Caper when members of the Canadian embassy in Iran, led by then Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and immigration officer John Sheardown, harboured the six fugitive American diplomats and worked with the CIA to engineer their escape, it is a fictional take on the story, one in which the CIA role has been heightened at the expense of the heroic role the Canadians played. Ex-US President Jimmy Carter who was President at the time, has weighed in saying, “Ninety percent of the contribution to the ideas and the consummation of the plan were Canadian and the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. The main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

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(Photo: The Canadian Press/Peter Bregg)

So, congratulations to Ben Affleck and his co-producers (including the modern day Paul Newman, George Clooney) for their Oscar win which I’m sure is well-deserved. But let’s just remember that Argo is a fictional movie and we shouldn’t forget or undermine the heroism shown by Ken Taylor and his team during the real events in Iran in 1980.

Heaven on Earth

The weather held up a beckoning finger today, pulling me out into the sun. I shut down the computer and surrendered. There are times to write, and there are times to walk in the woods.

It was a beautiful day at Neck Point and I took lots of photos. I started by looking at the big picture…

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…and then I saw a lone pine clinging to the side of a cliff standing bravely against the buffetting wind coming across the Strait of Georgia

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…and I started to look at shapes — the wind-whipped branches of trees against the blue sky…

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…the colours and textures of driftwood…

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…the pale trunks of trees in a copse shining like silver in the sunlight…

 

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…reflections in a puddle…

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…tree bark like alligator hide…

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…or spotted with the memory of insects…

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…acid green lichen adding beauty to grey rocks…

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…sun shadow zigzags on the stairs….

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…stones someone has balanced along a forest path…

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…and, above the rooftops, on the way home, a glimpse of heaven.

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The Best Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo – Contestants Number 2 and 3

Okay, it’s been almost two weeks since my last Nanaimo Bar taste-testing, so it was high time I applied myself to some more serious judging work. I’m doing this for you, remember. As they say, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Contestant Number 2 hails from Nanaimo’s Columbia Bakery. The initial appearance is good — there’s no mistaking it’s a Nanaimo Bar, with that custardy yellow middle, dark chocoate top and chocolate/nut/coconut base.  But, aesthetics are important — particularly since I’m an interior designer in my day job — so I have to quibble with the too thick middle and a base only a hair’s breath thicker than a….hair. The top layer of chocolate is as flat and dark as a newly asphalted road, so that gets the thumbs-up.

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Now, for the big one — the taste test. The base is good — not too crumbly or chewy — I just wish there was a bit more of it, particularly to shore up the too thick middle layer. See, that custardy, icing surgary middle is sweet — you know the kind of sweet that gets you right in the back of your molars and makes you make that sucking-in noise with a saliva slurping chorus? It’s meant to be sweet, but, and this is a big but, you gotta balance that sweet with the dark chocolatey base and slick of dark chocolate topping. It’s all about getting that balance just right. And this Nanaimo bar, while its component parts were good — that middle layer was smooth and had a good custardy kick, the top slick of semi-sweet chocolate ganache was quite nice, although I confess right here and now I prefer a bittersweet topping to cut the sweetness of the middle layer, and the base was very tasty. But the proportions were all wrong. A little bit of fine-tuning and this Nanaimo bar could be, in the words of Stanley Kowalski, a contender. But, as it is, I give it a 7.5/10.

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Enter Contestant Number 3. Here, we gotta talk. It’s from the Nanaimo Bakery so I was expecting great things. I mean the Nanaimo Bakery has to make the best Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, doesn’t it? Well… no. First things first. The reveal:

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Okay, what do you notice? I’ll tell you. Where’s the custardy yellow middle? This Nanaimo bar is anaemic. And the top layer of chocolate has odd streaks of light brown in the dark brown. You think i’m being picky? Duh. I’m looking for the best Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo. Picky is my middle name.

Okay, I’m disappointed. Here we have good balance, and I’m glad to see a thicker base, so all isn’t lost. But let the tastebuds do the talking. Time to put the iconic Canadian confectionery to the test.

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No. No. No. Just wrong. The base is mushy and grainy, but what’s going on with the missing custardy yumminess? This is a vanilla middle. Smooth sure. But it’s like eating icing sugar whipped up with a bit of water and vanilla. It’s just not right. And the chocolate top, which I have to say i preferred to the Columbia Bakery’s, isn’t bittersweet. And if it’s not bittersweet, I can’t award top marks. So, in the words of the immortal (oh, let’s hope not) Simon Cowell, “That’s a No from me.” Score: 4/10.

I’m a tough cookie. I want to find the best Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo. I want to wax lyrical and wave flags and blow whistles. But I haven’t found it yet. So, you’ll just have to wait on tenterhooks (whatever those are) as I continue my cavity-making crawl through Nanaimo’s dens of confectionery.