Cocktail of the Day: Love at First Sight

I recently tasked Harrowsmith’s Food Editor, Signe Langford, with a wobbly assignment. Could she create a signature cocktail for my memoir, Free to a Good Home: With Room for Improvement (Caitlin Press)? I was 100% inspired by the likes of Toronto’s Famous Last Words,  Junction neighbourhood local designed for bookish-types. It’s books and booze under one stylish roof! Founded by Marlene Thorne, the bar’s cocktail lists is truly ‘lit.’ Book clubs are invited to reserve a table and Famous Last Words will create a custom cocktail based on the novel under dissection.

 

Small circle story: I reviewed Langford’s gorgeous cookbook, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs (Douglas & McIntyre) in Harrowsmith’s Fall 2017 issue and, well, look at us now! Signe joined the Harrowsmith team and I found my own personal cocktail concocter!

Thanks in part to the pandemic, most everyone has become a day drinker, so, it’s an ideal day to release this signature cocktail! Appropriately dubbed “Love at First Sight,” here’s the (short and sweet) story of how the cocktail came to be and the recipe.

Can I Buy you a Drink?

By: Signe Langford

_MG_3476Some books are filled with words that appeal to the mind, and some you can almost taste, where on every few pages the author has strung together a set of descriptors of a person, place, or moment that read like a recipe.

Free to a Good Home by Jules Torti is one of those tasty reads. Page after page provides the imagination with flavours and ingredients for possible dishes and delicious sips, but there was one passage that spoke the loudest.

Here’s a drink I concocted based on Torti’s yummy description of the gal she would fall hard for, the moment she laid eyes on her. Honey, milk chocolate, peppermint, coconut….and Lanvin, Homme? OK, there’s no cologne in this cocktail, just a little nod to it by way of a tiny sprinkling of Mediterranean sea salt.

It was a perfect summer day on the water, so here’s a perfect summer smoothie with a kick….just like the lady herself.

_MG_3443

Love at First Sight

2 oz coconut rum

2 oz Amber rum

2 Tbsp runny honey

1 cup dark chocolate milk – soy, almond, or dairy

4 cubes of ice

Tiny pinch of Mediterranean sea salt to garnish (optional)

Chocolate-covered mint candy, notched for the glass

Directions 

First, prepare the garnish by heating a sharp, serrated knife in boiling water. Gently saw a notch into the chocolate and immediately slip it onto the rim of the glass.

Add the rums, milk, and ice to a powerful blender and whiz until smooth and frothy.

Pour into two tall glasses and add a tiny pinch of sea salt to the top, if desired.

Makes two decadent drinks, sweet enough to eat for dessert.

**Kim and I would suggest using Mount Gay rum, of course! And, what an easy way to incorporate leftover chocolate Easter bunny ears. Provided you have any left.

Editor’s note: Signe wasn’t aware that Kim and I had ‘experienced’ the Mediterranean, so the Mediterranean sea salt addition was ironic. In 2011, we went to El-Montazana beach in Alexandria, Egypt. We were trying to practice social distancing then, before it was a ‘thing.’ Our beach visit was short-lived as a long, romantic walk along the storied Mediterranean was a bit impossible. See shoreline below.

beach

You can follow Signe around the kitchen on Facebook at @signe’s kitchen and follow me around the world too, at @julestortiwriter

 

 

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, On My Bookshelf, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Postcard from Our Basecamp on the 45th Parallel

Selfishly, we miss the world already. Kim and I were supposed to walk the coastal leg of the Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago Spain at the end of May. I know. We’re all disappointed. We’ve all had to cancel something—flights, fights, weddings, funerals, concerts, campsites. The world is now closed.

world

On the Bruce Peninsula, cottagers who normally join a wildebeest migration to our parts with the first drip of a tapped maple into a bucket, have been asked to stay home by Bruce County officials. The Lion’s Head hospital has just four beds and our Foodland shelves are narrowly serving the year-round population of 700. Cottage country can’t cope with a displaced and disgruntled city relocation. Besides, the Bruce National Park is closed, as are the trails and as of today, there’s a total fire ban in effect. All of Ontario’s entire legislated fire region has been designated a Restricted Fire Zone to keep our frontline workers at the ready for COVID-19, not putting out runaway fires. That means no proactive spring clean-up of brush, no wieners over the coals and definitely no S’mores, legit fire pit or not. How much s’more can we take?

fire

The childhood refrain of “I’m bored” has quickly moved into whiney adulthood. Everyone suddenly wants to be wherever they are not. The coping and moping strategies are endless. Some are genius and generous–like our local Bear Tracks Inn initiative to buy a meal for a struggling senior. The Georgian Triangle Humane Society has a pet pantry for pet owners experiencing financial obstacles.

Other coping ideas are hair-brained—and we’ll get to the hair concerns later. Meeting the gang for a pop-up tailgate party is not deemed an essential service. Internet providers are finding their bandwidth growing as fast as the sweat pant bandwidth of all the newfound bread bakers out there. We want time alone, but, not now!

pizza

Note: *I am not following suit (sweat suit or bread-baking) with panic flour-buying. I don’t know if I’ve ever bought flour in my life. But, I am wondering—what is everyone doing with our Naan bread? I thought Kim and I were the only ones buying it but now the shelves are bare, save for crumpets. Can we make Naan-less pizza? It sounds like a very terrible gluten-free thing already.

I’m not sure how anyone could possibly be bored with all the heightened activity on Facebook alone. Everyone has become a CNN correspondent, life coach, snitch, philanthropist or part-time Netflix critic. *Thank you to everyone who suggested Tiger King. Whoa. It’s National Geographic meets National Lampoon meets National Enquirer with a whole lot of Honey Boo Boo.

netflix

There are living room concerts to attend, anti-anxiety forums (and also accidental anxiety forums), LIVE happy hours featuring day drinking, online church services (or, see “happy hour”), meditations with Jane Siberry, online fitness classes (the most popular one being: jumping to conclusions!), batting lessons With Nikki Beal and house party apps. You don’t have to fret about what to make for breakfast the day after if your house party guests stay ‘on the phone.’

Funny, don’t we all talk about wanting more time to get to that passion project? Bonsai! Buddhism! Time to sleep in? Write books? Do our taxes instead of crushing the usual April 30th deadline in a cold sweat? Don’t we all moan about wishing there was more time to work out? Instead, working “in” is not working out very quickly and the push-up challenge is hardly the fix.

IMG_2645

We’re more worried about haircuts and the equally hairy stock market. Canadians are already defaulting on mortgages after two weeks and making omelettes out of their nest eggs. Collectively, we’re defeated, disenchanted and uninspired—especially when it comes to home schooling the kiddos (and/or husband/wife).

From paramedics to prostitutes, we’re all in the same boat. And thank god it wasn’t the one bobbing around the Panama Canal, begging for some final landfall. Wouldn’t it be great to be eight and oblivious, enjoying an extended March Break without comprehension or care?

This virus has existed for ages, in a latent state. Certain species act as reservoirs and when the boundaries between species intermingle, we end up here. Someone in Africa ate illegal bushmeat from a chimpanzee and acquired HIV from a chimp who had acquired it from a monkey. In 2012, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) swept across the Arabian peninsula. The virus was spread from camels to humans. The Ebola outbreak and death of over 10,000 in West Africa in 2014-2015 was the direct result of bushmeat being consumed.

china2

This atomic round of the coronavirus has been linked to bats and a market in Wuhan, China. The Huanan Seafood Market menu was circulated online back in January.  Bats, rats, snakes, giant salamanders and live wolf pups, anyone? It’s the bushmeat and exotic animal trade and demand for aphrodisiacs that have led us here. As author J. Maarten Troost lamented in Lost on Planet China, the only four-legged thing they don’t eat in China is the table.

But, enough beating around the bushmeat. We all need to find our homeostasis again. Or, homeoSTAYsis, for crying out loud. If you are truly bored, explore that further by joining A Public Space. They are doing an online community read of War and Peace #TolstoyTogether. Really.

Instead, I’ve been reading what I thought might be escapist books, but, the escape is short-lived. Both The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder (by Marta McDowell) and The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh brought me back to the place I started. The antebellum pioneers were hard-wired for survival, that’s all they knew. In the Hundred Acre Woods simplicity was complicated and Eeyore lost his tail and faith in one swoop.

In Dr. George Hartwig’s The Polar and Tropical Worlds: A Description of Man and Nature, Hartwig observed that there were Norwegians living in the fjords for whom, “every family, reduced to its own resources, forms as it were a small commonwealth, which has but little to do with the external world, and is obliged to rely for its happiness on internal harmony, and a moderate competency.”

That was 1871 and somehow, at the exact same time, it’s now.

Categories: Passport Please, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Your 2020 To-Do List: Renovate Yourself

As this decade creeps to a close, lists of all sorts are bleeding into our socials, documenting the year that’s almost behind us in the best books, celebs drinking coffee, Amazon Prime fixes and plant-based burgers. Each year simmers down to a few deglazed moments in a 3D mosaic of places, faces, #’s, peanut butter stouts, sunsets, Wayfair deliveries and don’t forget the ‘feels!’

IMG_0313

Some years feel super, don’t they? The lists spool off like a dropped roll of toilet paper in a public washroom. Like a supermoon, when the moon edges as close as it ever will to the Earth in its elliptical orbit, everything appears larger than life. Other years feel foundational, like required coursework for university. You have to focus on critical thinking, analysis and engagement. Yawning. But, every year we are guaranteed 365 opportunities to grow.

As a writer and Virgo, crystallizing 2019 into a list is impossible to resist; it’s wound in my double helix. You don’t have to be a writer or Virgo to do the same—a list is like wet clay and you can sculpt your very own (with or without thoughts of Demi Moore at the potter’s wheel). Here’s mine, in no particular order:

Best M.O. of 2019

tom waits

On the twinkly brink of 2019, most of us probably committed to a new modus operandi, thanks to the omnipotent ammunition of champagne coupled with Auld Lang Syne. Maybe it was an inspirational quote that appeared to you in neon graffiti in a back alley, or on a coffee mug with a llama. I came across this Tom Waits quote and the implication was like a branding iron on my brain’s cortex. “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” If you didn’t find words to live by in 2019, from a llama or alley graffiti, seek them out in 2020.

Best Advice

DSCN2188 (2)

As Stephen Legault suggested in his upcoming book, Taking a Break from Saving the World (Rocky Mountain Books, May 2020), sometimes we have to “eddy out.” When we rest for a moment in quieter waters, we can exhale and scout the downriver out to find the best passage. Kim and I chose to eddy out the winter in Antigua and San Pedro, Belize but you don’t have to reduce yourself to a carry-on to exhale.

Best Book

IMG_0437 (1)

The best book of 2019 was the one that exported my head and heart into the foggy and unforgiving emotional landscape of How to Catch a Mole: And Find Yourself in Nature by Marc Hamer. It’s as sweet as red velvet cake and will turn you inside out. You will be changed. Note to self: Read more books like this in 2020.

Best Soundtrack

DSCN3450

A soupy July night at the Mississagi Lighthouse & Campground on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, hit number one for us. It went something like this:

The electric charge of a brewing thunderstorm approaching from the south

Wind ripping across the ink black waters and shelf of limestone and quartz

The snap and baffle of our nylon tent walls

The resilient pines bending and whistling in the fever pitch

(repeat)

Best Sleep

IMG_0998

I used to blog about the best places we slept each year and the winners were always unconventional—like a blanket in the middle of Egypt’s star-studded White Desert with a dung beetle halfway in my bra. The list has included Quebec’s Ice Hotel, yurts and a seaside cabana in Colombia that our friend thought was a change hut for a swimming pool.

IMG_1007

In 2019, it was a frontier-style tent at ‘Ome Sweet ‘Ome in Burlington, Newfoundland. Cue up the loons calling in the dying sun as we ate cold pizza on a picnic table painted piglet pink. We drank Prosecco in mason jars around a fire that licked the full moon until the stars shifted a rung in the sky. Simplicity, it makes for the best sleep.

Best Wedding (and hurricane)

IMG_0374

This was a supermoon year for me. I married my very best friend in Heart’s Content, Newfoundland on the hot heels of September’s Hurricane Dorian. I retraced our 920km experience on the Camino de Santiago in words and have another manuscript to throw at the publishing gods. My memoir, Free to a Good Home: With Room for Improvement (Caitlin Press) nearly knocked Michelle Obama’s Becoming from number one. That aside, maybe my book’s subtitle says everything.

free to

 

Each year is another opportunity to become a better version of ourselves—there’s always room for improvement. You can renovate your bathroom and yourself! Inspiration, accomplishment, luxury, learning and love comes in so many forms. Take your ball of wet clay and create something amazing in 2020.

IMG_1071

 

 

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Retiring--Rewiring | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Free to a Good Home: The Redux Version!

Back in 2009, long before kale, kombucha and the Kardashians, there were blogs. There was little talk of IG, AI, YOLO or FOMO for that matter. E.T. (as in “E.T. go home” still the most popular acronym). Bloggers dominated until…they didn’t. Video killed the radio star with the help of Twitter and sushi + unicorn emojis.

fuzz

Photo Credit (and a standing ovation to): Fuzzberta & Friends

I put the blog brakes on a while back and shifted to everyone’s favourite time warp, Facebook. I posted guinea pigs wearing small hats, and reviews of quirky places to sleep–like the treepods at Treetop Haven in Mount Tryon, PEI or a grain silo in Moosejaw, SK.  Of course, these kinds of things are/were squeezed in between dramatic photo coverage of attempting Martha Stewart’s pancake hack: sheet pan pancakes.

DSCF1862 (1)

Inside the groovy Great Horned Owl Treepod at Treetop Haven.

bin there

Bin There Campground, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan–haven’t bin there yet, but soon

I hoped no one would ever send me a notification indicating how many hours I had spent mindlessly Facebooking. Those (estimated) 154,698 hours could have been put to better constructive use–like, inventing sheet pan pancakes before ol’ Martha. Or, writing a book, perhaps.

DSCN3055 (2)

 

If you were following my bouncing ball back in late 2017, you might remember that I was inspired to write a book (I’d like to thank the guinea pig wearing the tweed flat cap for the motivation). I self-published my memoir, Free to a Good Home, and thrust it upon friends and family (provided they ponied up the $25 first). Though the instant gratification of self-publishing had its guaranteed high, I decided to set the bar higher, and try to swing from it despite my below average gymnastic skills. *Do not let me ever attempt a somersault or cartwheel, no matter the sum of money or promise of free beer.

After email-stalking the publisher at Caitlin Press about publishing my book in the legit, authentic, bonafide Maggie Atwood-style, she said yes! I can only imagine that this is what the lipsticked, tarted up women on The Bachelor feel like at the rose ceremony. Finally, Vici Johnstone handed me the rose! (Though I’d prefer a nice rosé instead.)

DSCN3064 (2)

Martha’s sheet pan pancakes (say that 10 times, I dare you).

I’ll have to adjust making Martha’s cheater pancakes as impending bestseller fame might prevent me from idle stove top pancake-flipping. While I admittedly still get sucked into Facebook quicksand and dolled up guinea pigs (really, check out @fuzzberta) on a rainy day, it’s with purpose now. It’s all about #branding. You can follow me on my shiny new author page on Facebook: @julestortiwriter

Free low rezYou can also order the super redux-version of my memoir Free to a Good Home: With Room For Improvement on Amazon or All Lit Up, or directly through Caitlin Press! It took 44 years to create and share this book–just like Amish Friendship bread starter and The Young & The Restless (time stamp: March 26, 1973).

 

I know what you’re thinking…”Well, I’ve read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming–isn’t this book going to be identical? Will I be able to relate? If you’re on the picket fence, read the following statements aloud. Do they resonate?

 

 

1. I have put together a piece of Ikea furniture with a *&%$ Allen key.
2. I have moved so many times that my postal codes create their own alphabet.
3. I love old dogs, old people and old houses.
4. I have an ex. I am an ex. I’m with my ex again.

See? It’s a familiar pattern of roommates, girlfriends, old dogs, ex-girlfriends, older dogs. Moving. Packing. Moving.

DSCF4676

The box office, appropriately. Moving from our 155-year-old stone cottage to parts unknown.

Just add cold pizza and warm beer.

DSCF1923

Fig & Arugula slices from Satellite Pizza, Charlottetown, PEI

Bonus features of Free to a Good Home: Learn how to to live in a barn for an entire year! Discover how to survive a 88-house-long real estate journey without becoming homicidal (and/or an Amazon Prime exclusive documentary). Gain access to Jann Arden’s secret egg nog recipe…and a heck of a lot more. Like, how to prep breakfast for 26 chimps in the Congo (really).

DSCF5485 (2)

A traditional ‘farmhouse’ breakfast with Olive at Caberneigh Farm.

Thank you to all of you who supported by blog blabbing for nearly a decade. Thank you for bothering to click the link and for reading right to the bitter end. If you’re like me, you read the scrolling movie credits too, because you just never know…

Movie credits for the film adaptation of Free to a Good Home (when optioned by Reese Witherspoon) will read:

Jodie Foster as Jules Torti

Jamie Lee Curtis as Kim Kenny

Jann Arden and her egg nog as herself and itself

DSCF0160 - Copy

 

 

Categories: Home Sweet Home, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free to a Good Home

freetogoodhome.jpgIf you’ve dutifully followed along here, you might be wondering what the heck happened.

Recap: We sold our darling little stone cottage on Facebook in May 2016–and then we couldn’t find another one. On August 1st, 2016 we moved to Caberneigh Farm in Uxbridge and lived in a barn for a year, wrangling chickens and learning the art of pig pedicures.

I inundated you with posts about our relentless search for a house from Prince Edward County to Perth to _______________ (fill in the blank). I may have been whiny and sick of ‘unreal’ real estate. I’m sorry.

Eighty-eight houses later, we found this sleeping giant in Lion’s Head, Ontario. No wonder we couldn’t find our dream home–it was in Northern Bruce Peninsula! We’d never been before, we were 100% genuine accidental tourists.

My last post here was about camping in Bon Echo Provincial Park. Kim and I were biding our time, waiting, waiting, waiting for the keys to our place. And, wondering how we could build tiny machine guns to kill off all the *%$#@* deer flies in the campground. It was an inferno. You couldn’t even enjoy your Bush beans and coffee in the morning without five deer flies up your nose and in your ears.

DSCF9820

Update: We just suffered through those deer flies and swore a lot. On August 1st, 2017, we changed our address to the 45th parallel: halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Our shipping container was delivered the next day–with all the worldly belongings that we’d packed away 365 days before. Which, would have been really helpful, say, in January, when we had no winter boots.

DSCF0467

The back story runs deeper though. So deep that it became a book. I decided to finally take on the scary, hairy National Novel Writing Month boot camp (an actual site that inspires writing 1,666 words a day with the end goal of a 50,000 word book. Not to brag, but, I did it in 19 days–mostly because this story has been in my head for so long. And, just like people have to get things off their chest–I had to get this story off my head).

I opted to self-publish Free to a Good Home on Amazon Kindle because I like the  immediacy of things nowadays. All my patience reserves expired in our year-long house search. But this house search, as exasperating as it was–it was the catalyst for this book. I didn’t do it for fame or fortune. I already have that. And by that, I mean a DVD of Fame and an old fortune cookie. Confucius say “Good things come to those who wait.” Or–good things come to those who sit down and actually write the book they’ve written in their head.

Home…is it a person, a place or a thing?

DSCF0675

My childhood home at RR#2. I think this was a grade 10 art class sketch.

In Free to a Good Home, I scroll back to my sunny childhood and re-visit my stronghold of “home” on a rural road on the edge of the appropriately named Mt. Pleasant. I return to all the versions of home that followed: a house with no walls in the Costa Rican jungle to a bohemian rental in Vancouver with a rotating cast of roomies, cats and dogs (and Fleetwood Mac soundtrack). From BC to Toronto’s Cabbagetown and “Village”  to BC again to Uganda and the Congo (and back to the Annex in Toronto), it was a Rolodex of addresses, illustrating colouring books, making breakfast for chimps. painting store windows, massaging the rich and famous–and always, writing.

My apologies to anyone with an old-fashioned address book during this time period (everyone). I’m sure you had to order an extra “T” page for all my revisions. Hopefully this book explains it all. Thank you for keeping me as a pen pal and friend.

The nitty gritty: the Kindle version is $6.44 Canadian. What else can you buy for that? Not a pint of beer–and this will last longer

The paperback edition will be $20 US. Because, let’s face it–we love the Northern Bruce Peninsula but we also love the Indian Ocean in February. And, just to clarify, I will make about $7 per book in royalties. Which is a little closer to buying a pint of beer. So, think of it that way–you’re buying my book, and buying me a beer. Thanks for both!

It’s here: Free to a Good Home

It will be a Merry Christmas after all.

DSCF0422

 

 

 

 

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camping at Bon Echo…Echo…Echo

The camping gods were really smiling down on us this week. Somehow in this thunderstorm-bashed soggy summer, we picked the only stretch of five rain-free days to set up a tent and get woodsy. Bon Echo Provincial Park had long been on our list to visit, but, the five hour drive from Cambridge always deterred us. There was also our undeniable love affair with the dunes of Long Point where we had migrated every summer.

DSCF8819

What Kim and I were rewarded with was a Group of Seven landscape. Campsites designed with the discreet camper in mind. We’ve been to parks that seem more like suburbia with radios blaring, blinding floodlights, car alarms sounding off at all hours and competing cell phone ringtones.

DSCF8905

Bon Echo’s soundtrack: The Barred Owl’s infamous “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call through the tall stands of beech. The maniac laugh of loons on Lower Mazinaw. Pileated woodpeckers at 6am, like a construction crew framing a house. Birch logs snapping and sizzling in the fire ring.

Bonus: Radio-free zone camping.

DSCF8894

Mini history lesson: Bon Echo became a provincial park in 1965. Situated north of Kaladar (home of a Philly cheese steak and poutine food truck and designated dark sky preserve), the park’s Instagram backdrop is Mazinaw Rock, an unexpected and startling 330-foot cliff. It gets better: this rock face doubles as a historical canvas of over 260 aboriginal pictographs (rock paintings—now designated as a National Historic Site of Canada). If you hop in a canoe, you can paddle through the Narrows and J-stroke along the length of this gallery.

DSCF8864

 

Prior to being a coveted park to pop a tent, the land was owned by a lumber baron (Weston A. Price) who built the Bon Echo Inn, a boutique hotel before boutique was a thing. The desired clientele were wealthy, God-loving teetotalers. That is, until the property was sold to Howard and Flora MacDonald Denison who spun the hotel on its heels and turned it into a retreat for thinkers, social drinkers, painters and writers. Flora was a Toronto writer and suffragette with a literary crush on Walt Whitman. The crush is evident in her open chiselled tribute to him smack dag on Mazinaw Rock. In the summer of 1919, two Scots stone masons chipped away lines of his poetry in foot-tall letters.

DSCF8925

Flora’s son inherited the inn after her death in 1921, and in 1936 the bake house was struck by lightning and a fire destroyed many of the outbuildings in its hot path. The inn was never rebuilt but her son continued to summer at Bon Echo. His conservation interests led to the in demand land being donated to the province for the purpose of a provincial park.

DSCF8797

Flash facts:

Mazinaw is the second-deepest lake in Ontario.

Bon Echo is home to Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink. (*Photo below is of a red-backed salamander, not a skink.)

Red-backed salamander--not a skink!

A tin of tuna and tzatziki with a little kale rolled up in wrap is pretty sensational. Is it weird to segue from skinks to tuna + tzatziki?

Flora, Fauna, Fungi

Dotted along the India ink waters of Mazinaw Lake, mushrooms abound.  Egg yolk yellow mushrooms sit in the ferns. Beatrix Potter toadstools list in the long grasses and lichen.

DSCF8903DSCF8921DSCF8917DSCF8923

At Bon Echo, many of the sites are walk-in (versus pop the trunk and empty contents two feet away), allowing for a thorough Thoreau experience.

DSCF8802

The bird life abounds, and in Hardwood Hills, even the deer flies are the size of hummingbirds.

DSCF8938

There’s a guaranteed firefly convention each night and we counted four falling stars whizzing towards the earth. Be sure to check your log pile for red-backed salamanders too!

Blackboard Menu Highlights

Buttermilk pancakes with dollops of vanilla yogurt and genuine Mennonite maple syrup

Caberneigh scrambled eggs and Bush Beans (Bush is a sponsor of Ontario Parks and donated pyramids of free cans for campers)

DSCF8821

Falafel balls with red-wine reduced sweet onions, red peppers and yogurt tzatziki

Sirloin burritos with salsa and mosquito-flecked sour cream

Basil pesto penne with sundried tomatoes, sausage and sunflower seeds pinch hitting for pine nuts

Suggested Road Trip: We decided to check out Bancroft (1hr and 15 minutes from the park) on the only temporarily cloudy morning. We needed ice, and, because we’re moving 5 hours in the opposite direction, we knew it would be awhile until we revisited these parts.

DSCF8893

What to do: Be sure to drop into squeaky new Bancroft Brewing Co. and work your way through their effervescent line-up. The best of the lot: their rich coffee-licious Black Quartz, ruby red Logger’s Ale and special patriotic tribute—the “150.” Growlers are $9 plus a $3 deposit and necessary for fireside. Pair with handfuls of pistachios, honey garlic sausages, jalapeno Monterey Jack and surprise friends who text and say, “We fixed the starter on the VW! We’ve booked a site in Hardwood Hills! See you tonight!”

DSCF8887

While you’re in Bancroft, have an impromptu picnic along the creek and don’t miss the curio at The Tin Shed just off the main drag. Sniff all the “clothesline” and “cedar cabin” scented candles. Marvel at the door knockers, rod iron hooks, hinges and salvage. Buy that blank notebook that says “Find what brings you joy and go there!”

There are several mercantile and thrift shops, the classic Stedman’s, token fudge shop and fresh produce stand for sausage and wiener-fatigued campers. The green beans, bunches of radishes, gooseberries and thimble-sized raspberries beckon!

DSCF8872

Nostalgic side note: My greatest thrill as we cruised along Highway #28 to Bancroft wasn’t Moose FM playing Billy Idol’s Mony, Mony (but that was great too). It was passing by a sign that indicated Camp Walden was the next right hand turn. CAMP WALDEN! This was epicentre of my high school years! In grade nine I went as a camper and then returned like a boomerang for the next four years as counsellor in the (fittingly) Journalism department. With a dedicated crew of future Dharma Bum Kerouacs and Burroughs-in-the-makings, we cranked out the mighty “Camp Log” on a daily basis. I loved this art camp right down to the Three Blob Lunch (blob of tuna salad, blob of egg salad and blob of potato salad) and no-erasers-allowed sketchbook policy.

DSCF8871

Suggested road trip in the other direction: On Highway 41, south of Cloyne (20 minutes from Bon Echo), Graybarre School House Treasures (look for the plastic Fred Flinstone outside) is exploding with whimsy and inventory. Salt and pepper shakers, pewter pig napkin holders, squirrel nut crackers, tin watering cans, lanterns, backcatcher masks, old goalie pads, 7-Up glasses—STUFF. It’s easy to lose an hour and a hundred bucks here.

DSCF8794

Otherwise, hightail it back to Bon Echo, because outside the park it’s just worms, ice cream and fireworks. Oh, and a fish and chip joint cleverly named The Codfather.

Rent a canoe, walk the wilds and recalibrate. Like that blank book cover in The Tin Shed said, “Find what brings you joy and go there.”

Hint: Bon Echo

DSCF8934

Categories: Passport Please, Retiring--Rewiring, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Prince Edible Island: An Insider’s Guide to Eating Your Way Around PEI

It seemed appropriate that the first two songs we heard in our fancy Mini Clubman rental were:

Here Comes the Rain Again—Eurythmics

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet—BTO

And, nope we hadn’t seen anything yet because the fog from Charlottetown’s airport to Summerside was like driving into a giant steam room.

DSCF7964

I’ve been to the island ten times now. Kim has been every year since she was probably six (insert station wagon family vacation and non-stop 20-hour drive here. Never to be repeated again. God bless planes). I never tire of the Maritime quirk: Smelt Festivals, foxes so abundant and tame that you can hand-feed them peanut butter sandwiches, Pig & Whistles (still not sure what they are, but it sounds interesting) and Bingo at every church corner.

DSCF7993 (2)

When you ask for directions in PEI, you often get an escort. And, even more frequently, the place or person you are looking for is a relative of some sort. We were driving blindly around Ellerslie looking for a new brewery called Moth Lane. We were expecting signage but the GPS was at a loss too. We found a cherub of a man licking a vanilla twist at the Kenny Dairy Bar (probably a relative of Kim’s) with his son. When we asked if he knew where Moth Lane was he said that he “sure do. My cousin owns it.” He was driving right past it in fact, and would happily ‘drive us there.’ And he did, finally flashing his lights 10 kilometers later at Moth Lane. We peeped our horn in thanks and drove down a road that had Kim doubtful. It seemed more like a tractor route, the kind of place where a kidnapper would take you. But, we found it, and a minute later, our direction giver wheeled in behind us and waved. Obviously he thought our honk meant we needed him.

DSCF8037

Sidebar: It is definitely worth stopping at any dairy bar or bingo hall to find Moth Lane on Mickie Allen Shore Road. Grab a Motor Boat’R and No Exit Pale for $6 bucks a pint. And, you’ll want a glass to go. I mean, the actual glass, not a glass of beer to go (but, that would be nice too). The branding of Moth Lane comes with a sly grin from the owner’s son-in-law. “My father-in-law’s dad always used to look for a porch light on.” He was like a moth to the flame, hoping to find late night company and a place to go for a drink. Their pint glasses read: “Drawn to the grain like a moth to a flame,” in tribute.

DSCF8040

There’s a dog greeter (we’re not even sure if he belongs to the brewery or a nearby house, but, he’s game for belly rubs of any length). On the upstairs patio the uninterrupted view of the bleached dunes across the Conway Narrows is probably one of the best places to drink a beer on the island.

DSCF8041

But, enough beer drinking. We did educational things too, like visiting the International Fox Museum and Hall of Fame. Who knew that Summerside was the hotbed of the fox farming industry? In the early 1900s there were over 8000 fox ranches dotted around the island. A pair of breeding silver foxes sold for over $35,000. The museum is a curious mix of relics, pelts, heritage and an actual tattoo kit that was used to mark the ears of the foxes in captivity. If you like odd museums, put it in your itinerary. We later learned that we could have participated in Summerside’s Fox Hunt—which involves trying to find a dozen hidden foxes (designed by Malpeque Iron Works) around town.

DSCF7946

What first-timers or ten-timers will notice most in PEI is the lack of fences between houses. I asked Kim, “Is it because of friendliness between neighbours or high winds?” She is 100% sure it’s the friendliness that is integral to island life. But, for anyone who has lived in the suburbs, or anywhere in Toronto, or anywhere other than PEI, really, it’s a remarkable thing to see. Even the birds live in communes.

DSCF8032

PEI is much like a living museum of the dying arts. This is a place where everyone still plays cards and gets together to jar pickles. There are still proudly displayed spoon collections and quilts, advertisements for lawn bowling members, strawberry socials and cut-throat crokinole matches. People still do embroidery here and bake from scratch with lard and go to church and get the daily paper (The Guardian: Covering Charlottetown Like the Dew).

We’re talking about the homeland of Chef Michael Smith (shameless plug for my sister and Harrowsmith: check out her Spring 2017 feature “FireWorks and Sticky Buns” about her edible bike ride along PEI’s Confederation Trail). The lanky, surfer-haired proprietor of the Bay of Fortune Inn and FireWorks restaurant embodies all that the island is. He’s the kind of guy who can put you under a starry-eyed spell while making apple strudel, regardless of your persuasion or feelings about strudel. And, we saw him. Up close and personal at Upstreet Brewing Company with his new summer staff. For me, it was a day of National Geographic moments. First, spotting eight foxes sunning themselves (with the kits entertaining themselves with a dead mouse) in Sherwood, next: Chef Michael Smith in his natural habitat!

DSCF4548

Tasting notes: Order the Upstreet burger, simply stacked with iceberg, tomato, local bacon, stretchy cheese and a magical barbecue sauce. The beet and kale salad doused in a Rhuby Social (their rhubarb/strawberry beer darling) vinaigrette is very Instagrammy. Have a Rhuby on nitro (it gives it some party fizz, like beer champagne!) or 80’s Bob Scottish Ale.

DSCF4549

Be sure to check out The Worse Case Scenario Survival Game from the jammed board game shelf (Uno! Exploding Kittens! Battleship!) and read through some of the cards (it’s like Trivial Pursuit–even a little more trivial in comparison). Over a burger and beer we learned how to outrun a rhino (and crocodile, but not at the same time), how to eat worms, ram a car at high speeds, why you should apply meat tenderizer to a bee sting and, how to give an attacker an eye jab.

While you’re in the vicinity, be sure to check out nearby Urban Beehive Project initiated by architects Silva Stojak and Shallyn Murray. Located in Charlottetown’s largest urban garden, the PEI Farm Centre. Learn all about honey with a hands-on approach (well, not too hands-on). The plexiglass viewing panes allow you to be a Peeping Tom and see the drones and Queen bustling away, creating their wares.

DSCF8010

If you are seeking off the beaten Anne of Green Gables path encounters, put Glasgow Glen Farms on your custom map too. One step inside you’ll wonder why they haven’t bottled up the wood-fire pizza smell and sold it as a cologne.

DSCF8019

Pumping out eight pizzas at a time (140 on a peak summer day), the bearded crew led us through a divine sampling of Lady Gouda cheese (also produced here). There are 17 varieties from fenugreek to pizza to beer gouda. You won’t walk away empty handed. We ordered a Hawaiian to go with that lovely blistered crust and heaps of oozy gouda, and wedge of the beer gouda. Sensing a theme here? Saturdays are a hot mess here as locals pile in for the $2 cinnamon buns as big as at toddler’s head. Did I mention the freshly baked brioche? This is the stuff of dreams.

DSCF8015

As a ten-timer to the island, here are the annual necessary stops/eats:

  1. The Charlottetown Farmer’s Market. Kim would insist that you order flaky veggie samosas from Out of Africa. I’d send you to Gallant’s Seafood for a buttery lobster grilled cheese.
  2. Sugar Skull Cantina on Water Street in Charlottetown. It wasn’t open yet, but we love the co-owner’s other groovy HopYard resto: pick a vinyl, split some tapas. The Cantina will be all tacos and tequila. Say no more!
  3. Noelle and Nancy’s Malpeque mussels in a white wine broth flecked with onion and beautiful bacon. Noelle and Nancy are friends of ours, not restaurant owners, but, they’d probably welcome you in if you brought some white wine and a baguette. And Noelle would probably send you home with a jar of Maritime chow.
  4. Albert & Crown Pub, Alberton. A $7 halibut fish burger and pile of salt-tossed Cavendish fries? Simple math.
  5. Malpeque Iron Works in Summerside. Eric Shurman’s work is a marvel. If we could only bring these crows back as a carry-on!

DSCF79606. Penderosa Beach. This is why you need to be friends with locals like Noelle and Nancy who share the best kept secrets!

DSCF7997

7. One more thing: You need to have fish tacos at the Island Stone Pub (the storied old train station) in Kensington.

DSCF7953

Corn Meal Crusted Haddock, Cilantro Lime Crema, cabbage, pico, pickled onions and rocket greens. This is the whispered sweet nothings that I like to hear…

DSCF7957

For scavenger hunt fans–here’s your challenge. Find these:

Fox Plops, Chow and Blueberry Grunt.

And, no, it’s not a band name.

 

 

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Passport Please, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

88 Houses: The Arduous Journey to Find a House to Call Home

If you are a Facebook friend, real estate agent, bartender, Sobey’s cashier or brick wall, you’ve probably heard about our daunting search for a home. And when I say brick wall—it’s because we were hitting our heads against one for the last nine months. Longer, actually.

DSCF9081

 

Selling our little stone cottage in Galt on Facebook in August 2016 was easy. Finding a forwarding address became the arduous journey. Really, if we calculated the mileage that we clocked driving to and fro from the Frontenac to Tobermory, Kim and I probably drove to Tijuana, Mexico over 12 times.  We looked at 88 houses. EIGHTY EIGHT! You know that annoying school bus song? 99 Bottles of Beer on the wall? Well, imagine 88 houses, second verse same as the first.

DSCF5195Our storage pod is a distant memory. We’re not even entirely sure what we own anymore—but we do know that we did not thoughtfully bring our winter boots with us to Caberneigh Farm. Since August, we have been “barn cats,” sharing space with Olive the pig, eight horses, three chickens, and two real barn cats: Lucy and Freddie (one of which—Lucy– has decided she’s over the barn thing and has been squatting quite snugly with us.  A hidden camera would reveal her balled up on my jeans (yes, I’m still wearing pajamas at 1:30pm).

DSCF7782

Lucy, a former barn cat who was also looking for a home, like us.

We never anticipated that we would be living in a barn (but, it’s a seriously fancy one—with Netflix and wifi. There’s a pool table serving double purpose as my walk-in closet, an English pub-esque oak bar on one end, and a full-on view of the riding ring. Our front balcony view is a pastoral postcard with a bonus soundtrack: great horned owls, distant spring peepers and the wild telegraph of coyotes cutting the silence. Falling stars routinely drop like confetti in the light pollution free skies of the Scugog.

DSCF5303This is what Plan A, B and C were: we would find a house in the fall. We would move in just before New Year’s (for sure!) and make a lovely ham studded with cloves for our family on Christmas day. Christmas and my mother’s stand-in studded ham came and went. Real estate agents (we had about seven working in our favour, at every port) promised us that January 1st was going to mark the beginning of a lava hot market. The newspaper headlines and Twitter feeds have become repetitive. The market inventory is at an all-time low, houses are going over-ask and even though it’s a sellers’ market—sellers are afraid to sell because what the hell are they going to buy?

DSCF7113

So, January was a blow-out. Kim and I were on repeat. Wake, turn on laptop, gently nudge Cuisinart coffee maker switch to ‘on.’ Spend next three hours crawling through potential realtor.ca listings from Lake Erie to Crotch Lake to Devil Lake to where? It didn’t even matter anymore.

Unfortunately, this one wasn't for sale.

Unfortunately, not for sale.

We looked in Trent Hills, Campbellford, Prince Edward County, Napanee, Perth, Smiths Falls, Jasper, Verona (see what I mean? Where?), South Frontenac, Tweed, Cramahae, Tobermory, Meaford, Tiny (until we found out my ex had a cottage there a Tiny became too tiny), Port Albert, Port Franks, South Big Island, Grand Bend, Wolfe Island, Pelee, the Moira River, Meyers Island, Warkworth, Waupoos, Westport, Elora, Fergus. And, back. Then to Belize on one we-give-up night.

Just pick a place. We looked at a house or a chunk of property there.

church 1

The start of our search in Prince Edward County in September of 2015. *This is NOT a typo. We started looking waaaaay back then!

We looked at old farmhouses, log homes, pan-abodes, contemporary builds, churches, container homes, passive solar houses, three-season cottages, cottages still vintage 1963 with avocado everything, paneling and shag. We started at a hopeful $300K and upped our budget by $200,000 in no time.

DSCF4747

*Conclusion: the problem with cutesy churches and old schoolhouses–they are always 10 feet from the road and ENORMOUS inside. ie. Ontario Hydro $$$$$$$

Every house hunting and gathering trip ended with exasperation. I looked for signs in the bubbles of our beer foam. I slept-in longer, hoping for an epiphany. Kim started designing house plans on serviettes and we actually sat down and crunched numbers with half a dozen builders. We couldn’t even build what we wanted because we couldn’t find land. The vacant lots either required a snowmobile or aqua-lunged Land Rover to get to. We put in an offer on one sunset lot in Prince Edward County for $189,900. For a sliver of steep lakefront. It was almost too quiet there though—we could actually hear the blood cycling through our head. Luckily, we were out bid, though we had visions of a Nordic Stark stacked container design in which we would live happily ever after, foraging mushrooms and asparagus while fermenting pine needles to make gin.

DSCF5619 (1)

Jasper, Ontario. We were nearly killed by 10,000 mosquitoes here.

DSCF5613 (1)

Gorgeous, but, truly the middle-of-nowhere unless you enjoy the company of cows. However, we are going to steal this horse trough/container garden idea.

There’s no need to go into all the disappointing details of the 87 houses that didn’t pan out. Just insert something—carpenter ants, pigs for neighbours (real pigs), a cemetery two steps from the back door, a heaving floor, junker neighbours with a tent city made out of tarps and dismantled cars…

Our most viable options looked something like this:

Reality was beginning to set in on affordable fixer-uppers.

Please note: vaulted ceilings

DSCF5579 (1)

Every day we gave up something on our wish list. Gone were sunsets. Gone was waterfront. Gone was our notion of living in Prince Edward County—the place we had funneled so much attention and affection for.

Our friend and family circle didn’t help matters. Kim no longer needed to be close to the steel mill and I could work anywhere with an internet connection.

We wanted so few things—but, we know the whispers were all about us being too picky. Is a golf course, microbrewery and library all in one 50km radius too much to ask?

We did not want to settle for generic. We did not want to be house poor or have to sacrifice spontaneous trips to Africa. Yes, we wanted it all, right down to the Japanese soaker tub and shiplapped walls.

This was actually somebody's garage near Black River--but, Kim quickly designed a 2-bedroom floor plan for us.

This was somebody’s three-car garage near Black River, ON, that Kim designed a 2-bedroom floor plan for.

Don’t even ask how many hours of HGTV we’ve consumed. Or, how many bottles of pre-celebration champagne we drank, so sure that the house we were going to see the next morning was the sacred one.

Until, finally, one unexpected day (in particular, March 29th) we unearthed the home we had been looking bleary-eyed for. It was in the Northern Bruce Peninsula! No wonder we couldn’t find it! After we had exhausted our viable options in Grand Bend and Bayfield that same week we began the online X-ray scan of listings again.

“Where was that place you loved so much last week?” I asked Kim.

DSCF7054

“Near Tobermory. I thought we ruled that area out though because it’s so far.”

It was far, but as close as we’d ever come to our vision. In fact, it was so convincing that we were ready to buy it over the phone. My reserved enthusiasm went 360 and the thoughts of going to check out this Northern Bruce Peninsula house. Where? It was 7km from Lion’s Head with had a farmer’s market, Foodland, LCBO, vintage café and Lion’s Head Inn pub. See, we’d be close to stuff!

I read further. The house was right on the 45th parallel—half way to the equator and half way to the North Pole! Yes, we had crossed off Tobermory because it was just so frozen and desolate in January when we went.

86 lakewood

OUR West Little Lake in the Bruce Peninsula! photo credit: realtor.ca

We wanted privacy, we didn’t want nosey parker neighbours. We wanted sunsets and a lake. This was it! Vaulted ceilings, the open floor plan, soaker tub, hardwood, workshop, garage…and, it was all in a designated Dark Sky Community! We’d be living in a UNESCO World Heritage site. I started looking up local birds and ferns (there are orchids in this area that grow nowhere else in the world).

lakewood 2

lakewood 3

Vaulted ceilings, coves, transom windows, gas fireplace…check, check, check.

We phoned our agent, Ashley Barker, who we had kindly “broke up” with after our last trip to Tobermory. The Bruce Peninsula was back on our horizon. We had seen 87 houses to know that this was what we wanted. It had been on the market 10 days and the northern market was starting to thaw. “You should come see it soon.”

Kim and I went the very next day. It was slate grey skies and miserable out but the house had a glow of its own. We pulled up the driveway and knew. For the first time, it was better than the photos on realtor.ca

I didn’t even grab our camera (which I routinely did on our searches). I wanted to take it all in—and, I knew it was going to be ours—I could take all the pictures I wanted then.

lakewood 1

Everything we wanted, right down to the cupola. Photo credit: realtor.ca

We laughed about considering Tiny House Nation. We had just bought a 2750-square foot house! Four bathrooms?? It was bigger than we imagined, but it was everything—tucked in a forest of cedars and birch. A tiny dock positioned to take in the wide screen sunsets. No grass to cut. No master gardens to crook our backs managing like we did in Galt.

There was no exhaustive list of changes (though we will work some shiplap and cement counter tops into the mix) that would include blowing the roof off. It was bright and freeing…the kind of place you walk into and take a deep breath. Where you can actually feel yourself breathe easier. We walked around like those buyers on fixer-uppers shows that can only say, “WOW” and “Oh my god!”

88 houses later. We found our wow.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Retiring--Rewiring, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Places We Slept in 2016

Dear Diary: It’s been six months and a few days since we sold our darling stone cottage in Galt, Ontario. Since, we have taken up residence at the storybook Caberneigh Farms with endless thanks to our friends Nicole and PJ who had a fancy barn with wi-fi and vacancy. We are in good company with Scotch mint-sucking horses and Olive the pig as neighbours. We even have our own resident barn cats, Lucy and Freddie. We’ve been spoiled by a steady supply of just-laid eggs and jars of Caberneigh Just Hitched honey. We’ve been privy to Nicole’s custom velvety egg nog and crème brulee. And scotch-tasting sessions with PJ, but that’s another story. And doesn’t involve eggs, though a Scotch egg would be really good right about now.

Bonus: Kim has almost earned her 4-H badge, John Deere tractor license and chainsaw operator certification. In addition to pig hoof trimming, we’ve learned how to contend with preventing pig break-in and enters, and how to keep four cats and six dogs from becoming a circus act.

dscf5207

What we never dreamed is that we’d still be without a forwarding address six months later. (Or, learning the fine art of chicken wrangling).

dscf6033

We packed our storage pod strategically—but, without thinking that we might need to access such things as winter boots and hockey equipment. Oh well, winter is almost over, right?

In six months we have slept in so many beds and scoured Ontario’s waterfront lots from Tobermory to Perth to Prince Edward County and over a dozen lakes in the Frontenac. Coinciding with this magical quest: finding hotels in parts unknown. Some have been dreamy and a complete refuge with Calgon-take-me-away bathtubs to sink into while others could have doubled for serial killer-type movie sets.

Normally I round up the best places we have slept each year. It’s been an annual tradition that we have enormous fun ‘researching.’ However, this year it seemed that for every remarkable place we slept, there was a nightmare hotel to match it.

The  18% Cream of the Crop:

DSCF6968.JPG

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, Blair, Ontario $310 midweek, $405 weekends

We kind of ruined ourselves by staying here. Yes, this is the same hotel I worked at in my previous incarnation as a massage therapist. To be on the receiving end of all the luxury is a marvelous thing. The grounds are not only manicured, but pedicured too. It’s like driving into a postcard. Deer tiptoe by, smoke curls out of the chimneys, and the brioche French toast with Earl Grey tea-infused maple syrup is like breakfast giving you a big hug. Langdon has its merits for all seasons, but staying on a deep freeze night in December makes the in-room fireplace the best balm.

dscf6961

Suggestion? Pack a bottle of bubbly, get that fire roaring and order in the sumptuous $25 Wilks’ burger piled high with black pepper bacon and molasses compote and Smoked Majestic Henry Cheese. The crispy skin-on fries are served with an addictive mustard seed and thyme aioli.

dscf6954

Be sure to sink into that gorgeous bathtub and prepare yourself for a rejuvenating sleep on a cloud.

dscf6944

WHITNEY MANOR, Kingston, Ontario $179 HOT DEAL (reg. $275)

This was my birthday junket. A road trip around Wolfe Island, Stone City Ales and mac n’ cheese-stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches from MLTDWN (get it? Meltdown). And, this. The Murphy Suite–which is exactly the kind of place and space we want to buy.

dscf5695

With exposed limestone, post and beam, a dreamy loft bedroom and soaker tub–this 1100-square foot suite is unforgettable. We wanted to lock the door and swallow the key.

dscf5698-2

dscf5704

Suggestion: There’s a full kitchen, so bring all the fixings you need for the barbie and breakfast so you don’t have to leave until check-out!

dscf5702-1

NEVIS ESTATES B&B, Perth, Ontario $175/night

After an extensive house hunting and gathering mission in the Frontenac, we were weary, soggy and starved. Our intrepid realtor, Barb Shepherd physically drove us to “Jenny’s Place” and introduced us. She insisted we stay there and skip the only other available option—the $189 standard Queen at the Best Western. She assured us we’d love Jenny, everyone did. Barb was right.

dscf5933

As soon as we entered the Colonial heritage stone estate (c.1842), we wanted to curl up with cocoa and read Thoreau. Jenny is like your favourite blanket: warm, comforting, reassuring. She listened to our disenchantment with finding a house and rallied our spirits with her own story with a tap root deep in New Zealand. The house she has renovated with her husband is a true marvel, it really feels like a fun sleepover with a close friend. Breakfast is an elaborate affair and though Kim and I usually cringe at chirpy early morning convos with assorted guests at B&B’s, the two twentysomething girls we sat with were colourful and engaging. Between frying bacon and flipping fluffy omelettes, Jenny joined in on the story telling, knowing both girls well from long-term stays.

dscf5585

The chatty equestrians were part of Ian Millar’s (hello Big Ben!) Millar Brooke Farm and were hotly anticipating competition at the Royal Winter Fair. As a just-out-of-the-oven loaf of brown-sugar crusted banana bread was delivered to the table, the girls told us all about ‘cribbing,’ a phenomena that is akin to crack for horses. By biting and hooking their incisors on a stall door or fence, they flex their necks, contract their larynx and swallow air, creating a gasping or grunting sound that is addictive.

So, stay at Jenny’s for the Jacuzzi and take-home slices of can’t-get-enough banana bread. AND, ever-changing but illuminating breakfast conversation with other guests. Book the local lumber baron’s room, The Senator McLaren.

PULLMAN G BANGKOK, Thailand $200/night

DSCF6622.JPG

This place has sexy in spades. It’s contemporary, it smells like warm vanilla pudding. It’s whitewashed and just oozes cool with a low thumping soundtrack, zebra skins, faux safari trophy heads, Foosball and craft Thai beers at the adjoining bar (25 Degrees Burger, Wine & Liquor Bar). The Pullman G is like entering a Miami night club. The elevators pulse with non-stop video of seductive pouty-lipped Swedes and, in another, bike tires spinning with playing cards ticking in the spokes. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the suite are the perfect front row seat to Bangkok’s sky-on-fire sunsets.

dscf6607

The breakfast bar here was an oasis after two weeks in China, eating starchy boxed breakfasts of white things: cakey muffins, stale croissants and white buns. At Pullman G, the detox juices beckon. There’s a granola and yogurt bar with all the tiny fixings. Real muffins stuffed with good stuff. You feel like you’ve taken your body to the spa, just by eating breakfast.

dscf6613

EL SOL AZUL B&B, Las Galeras, Samana 50 Euros/night (dependent on season)

There’s no reason to subject yourself to the oft-icky trappings of an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. Swiss owners, Esther and Pierre have been in the hospitality industry for 11 years. They have everything figured out and know exactly how to exceed guest expectations.

dscf3810

El Sol Azul is just 150m from the sea and minutes to the ‘downtown’ but tucked away in a pocket of serenity. The property is a showcase of tropical flowers and trees– crown of thorns, star fruit trees even! Pierre tends to them daily, usually with their lovely dog at his heels. There are two darling cats that live on the property too–and Caramel, loves to tease with her cute walk-by strut.

dscf3796
The thatched roof bungalow style suites are Robinson Crusoe-like, but, with all the amenities.

dscf3716
Breakfast is stellar. The spread is huge and European with fresh baguette, cheeses, local juices and punchy coffee. In addition to the continental fare, you can order eggs, any style and they come plated with ripe avocado and tomato.

dscf3800

The pinwheel of homemade jams really puts Esther’s breakfast at the next level! I asked her for the coveted banana rum jam recipe–I don’t even make jam, but, this will be the exception–it tastes exactly like banana bread in a jar.

2016’s Nightmare Sleeps

Stone Church, Perth, ON $79/night (not incl. breakfast)

dscf5593-1

The historic Gothic stone church home advertised on Airbnb looked promising. However, if we could have smelled those photos, we would have avoided booking a night. We were the only guests, despite the odd presence of 18 toothbrushes in the cup in the bathroom. Kim’s first comment was: “Ew. Keep your shoes on.” Second comment, “We’re definitely not showering here.”

We arrived late after another house hunt in the area. (This was before we were aware of Jenny’s place). The neighbours had Chubby Checker blasting as they sat in their yard just feet away. The house was a six feet away from Chubby Checker and five feet away from the major highway. We had already eaten, thank god—though the invite was there to make use of the ‘shared kitchen.’ I opened the cupboards looking for a beer glass and had a slight heave. I called Kim over—half the glasses had lipstick lips muddled around the lip of them.

The counter needed a good bleach and wipe. The fridge was so filthy and crumb-bound we didn’t even want to put our beer inside.

We took seats at the kitchen table (avoiding any additional contact with any surface of the house) and looked at online real estate. There wasn’t enough beer to inoculate us to sleep in such a dumpy cash grab Airbnb. We wondered if the sheets had even been laundered.

At 6am I awoked to Kim saying, “I’m ready to go when you are.”

And so we did. I’m not sure if we even brushed our teeth on the way out. That might explain the abandoned toothbrush collection.

Sandbanks Lakefront Airbnb, Prince Edward County, ON $140/night

Since when did Airbnb mean you never had to clean your house? We were APPALLED upon arrival. The junk lying around the house alone (old speakers, gym equipment, tools, tarps—all in disarray and decomposing). In the back, we were invited to join the owners on their outdoor furniture that looked like old car seats. From those ‘magical online photos’ we expected an ‘artist’s retreat’—whimsical, with a cute cat and a tiny firepit right on the beach. Sunsets! And, breakfast even—which most Airbnb properties don’t include. The room was small and a little dated with old-school paneling with a shared bathroom, but, we’d be taking advantage of the firepit and lake anyway.

Our house tour itinerary had us pulling in close to 8pm. We watched a couple carry their wailing newborn baby into the same house. We thought there was only one room in the entire home—not another greedy cash grab that had the owners bleeding money from offering ramshackle 70s shit hole rooms to unsuspecting guests—there were six of us jammed upstairs with walls as thin as a croissant flake. This was a cottage where NOTHING had ever been done in the form of upgrades. I might be making this up, but I’m pretty sure the toilet had one of those avocado green lid covers on it. With a matching pukey floor mat. The bathroom was straight out of 1962—the kind of place you want to put antibacterial gel on your hands and bum.

It was 100% gross, dark, mildewy and creepy. The couches sagged like tacos and looked like they were made out of cat litter. There were oil paintings and just weird things and weirder guests.

dscf4825

Kim and I retreated to the lakeshore after hosing our legs with Off! Spray. We avoided the communal kitchen and opted to heat up refried beans hobo style on our Coleman stove (handily packed in the back of the Rogue) and make sloppy burritos on the beach, in the dark. We graciously said no to offers to join the owners and their neighbours for drinks in the car seats. We waited patiently until they left so we could start a fire (only to be joined by two urbanites who had never built or seen a bonfire before).

The only saving grace was the sunset. The sunset cost $140, but, we’ll take that.

You know, I really could go on in this scary segment from last minute middle-of-nowhere, we-have-no-other-choice Super 8’s in Trenton (insert train blasting past every 40 minutes on the tracks just outside the door—oh, and the neighbour’s AC unit that sounded like an elephant with asthma.

Belleville? Oh, there was a crappy one there. Popcorn ceilings, sink located outside the bathroom, squiggly hairs in the sheets and a carpet that was witness to someone’s bender and barf.

And, so begins 2017. Though we love to sleep around, we can’t wait to sleep in our very own bed (which is vertical in our storage pod in Ayr, Ontario), wherever and whenever that may be. Until then, home is where the barn is.

dscf5064

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Passport Please, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One night in Bangkok. Actually, three.

Alternate title: Baht out of Hell (*Baht is the currency in Thailand)

dscf6673Backstory: We endured 15 fuzzy and bussy days (busy and too many buses) in China with just one shining light at the end of the bokchoy-filled and smog-choked tunnel. THAILAND! We watched the barometer scream skywards from a biting -10C to a molten 44C in Bangkok. Thailand was like a hot date. Immediately seductive with all the stuff and smells that turn us on.

I’m already censoring myself here. Even though my parents heard the full un-cut version of our Bangkokian experience, complete with the infamous (and mandatory) ping pong show. If you’re thinking of the rec room game in its traditional sense, god bless your innocence. We have been forever changed by Bangkok’s version of ping pong. Google it, this isn’t the time or place to share such things. But, I will say this: these women had ‘skill sets’ that included blowing out candles, blowing whistles, drawing with a crayon and even smoking two cigarettes at once. If you still haven’t googled ‘ping pong + Bangkok’ then you’ll be politely nodding along and that’s okay too.

thai-4

We instantly filled our growling and empty gut on the cheap. After China, we felt like we’d been nutritionally punished, only finding solace in bathtub vodka and weird Lays potato chip flavours (garlic scallops with butter! Sweet basil! Finger lickin’ pork!). We felt bathed in a sense of calm—we could even buy wine at the local 7-eleven! (And, century old duck eggs. Or, bird’s nest drinks sweetened with bird saliva or ready-to-microwave hot dogs in a bun. How about a green tea-flavoured KitKat?

dscf6671

We took to the streets, Anthony Bourdain Style. Tuktuks ripped through the streets and vendors set up shop in any available square with grilled octopus skewers, neatly sliced and salted mango and charcoal ice cream spun into waffle cones).

thai-3

Trivial Pursuit trivia: Thailand used to be Siam. It’s the only southeast Asian country not colonized by a western country. “Thai” means freedom…and, Thailand, freedom land.

dscf6641

Bangkok makes travel easy. It’s almost like cheating. You can exchange money everywhere—at the upholstery shop, a hotel or at the tiny corner shop that sells beer for 70 cents. You can barter and hop in a tuktuk for the price of two beers.

Quick fact: Thailand’s most popular beer is called ‘Chang’ which means elephant.

dscf6622

Our hotel in the Silom area of Bangkok was a quasi South Beach night club. Music pulsed deep and low, the elevators played a 24-hour video reel of skinny, sultry Swedes licking their lips and spinning cards in bicycle spokes. The Bangkok Pullman G was washed white with serious design wins. Hides, faux trophy animal heads, Edison bulbs, exposed brick, floating stairs, fooz ball and the best smell, throughout. Like still warm and just-stirred vanilla pudding.

Friends who had been to Thailand had already outlined an itinerary for us that included Thai whiskey, boxing, ping pong, a girly-boy show and the fish spa. (Thanks Sara and Neil!)

Here is your Bangkok shortlist, courtesy of them, and us.

First: *Google Bangkok + ping pong

Fish Spa: Because we like to fish for compliments

img_4540-1

It can’t be compared to any other sensation, though Kim nailed it when she said it was like being electroshocked hundreds of times. This is what you do: roll up your capris and stick your unsuspecting bare legs and feet into a large aquarium. Seemingly thousands (though maybe just 100) of tiny fish (finger-length) pounce. They are the estheticians of the marine world, happily pecking and nibbling away at your dead skin cells. Really. As we sat facing each other, Kim and I composed a list of all our friends and family who would NEVER dare such a thing. I had to do a lot of self talk. It’s creepy, crawly and the most bizarre sensation you can buy for $10. While you can opt for a 30 minute nibble, rest assured, 15 minutes is just fine and many opt out well before that. After: it feels somehow, remarkably like a really close shave.

The Lady Boy Show

Kim and I were expecting a bit of a dive bar, ultraviolet lights and some dirty trash talk from the performers at Cabaret. The ticket price was $25US each and included a drink. We had seen an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s (yes, he is our handsome, sage travel bible) where he went to such a show and it was definitely not this one. We couldn’t believe the crowd—all ages, all walks. The theatre at Asiatique was fancy with little bistro tables between the seats. Set in a neon-lit retail wonderland for travellers wanting knock-off Rolexes and True Religion jeans, the Cabaret show is twice a day. We thought it would be like a drag show—the usual Beyonce, Cher, Tina, Lady Gaga routines. Well, there were a few of those, but, this Cabaret show is right out of Vegas with choreography, feathers, ball gowns and a cast of probably 80.

Behind the scenes: I could barely show my face after the standing ovation. Jet lag, sleep deprivation and some questionable Air China spaghetti Bolognese all caught up with me before the first number. The worst part? I couldn’t find my way out of that fancy theatre. I couldn’t find the part in the big velvet curtain. Then, when I did, the door to the theatre was locked. So, I barfed once in front of the curtain, again in front of the door, then on my favourite Converse high tops and one more time for good measure before I was able to get out of the theatre.

Insert: Scowl of theatre staff scrubbing on hands and knees when I re-entered to Lady Gaga belting out “The hills are alive…with the Sound of Music.” I returned just in time to see ‘Julie Andrews’ accept her award from ‘Lady Gaga.’

Infinity Pool—any will do, but, especially this one:

dscf6816

To infinity and beyond!!!! This was our own addition to the Bangkok must list. You have to at 44 degrees! The Novotel Platinum Pratunam Cloud 9 pool was just the balm we needed and their happy hour is actually happy HOURS. From 12-5 you can buy 2 for 1 beers (and get free snacks like puffy shrimp chips and skinned peanuts) float, nap and let Bangkok buzz and honk nine floors below. ($20USpp if you’re not an esteemed guest of the hotel)

dscf6628

After sampling red, green and yellow curry (the red was the equivalent of eating a bonfire), visiting a few Buddhas (it’s a rite of passage here), a good fill of pad Thai (pre-requisite), we packed up for Phuket (1.5 hour flight from Bangkok).

PHUKET

dscf6787

Ah, the metallic Andaman sea. This is what we’d fawned over so long. Our research had consisted of two very important sources: watching the Swede series 30 Degrees in February and Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. Obviously we didn’t draw all our Thai conclusions on this, but, the footage of Patong and the Phi Phi Islands provided the vision board we needed prior to departure.

dscf6742

Quakes were quaking all around us. Japan. Indonesia. Myanmar. That Ewan MacGregor tsunami movie based on actual events of the 2004 Boxing Day horror was already stitched deeply into our minds.

thai

Waves on the beach were coming in like angry linebackers but we still couldn’t imagine a wall of water with the power to kill over 8000, on this beach of smiles, Swedes and colourful beach blankets.

dscf6721

Observation: Phuket was once the desired hot spot for sun-starved Swedes. Now it is the new Russia with restaurants and bars offering menus in Thai, Russian and English. Here, beaches are full of children—I’ve never seen so many under the age of 5. And, they stay all day—in the full sun, maybe with a smear of sunscreen, and stay until the sun sets.

thai-2

Our heels were soon well-polished on the 2km stretch of honey sanded Karon beach. The setting sun turned the sky cream soda and we decided to take part in the magic of lighting a lantern. At dusk, vendors walked the shore, carrying tissue paper lanterns to be lit and set high in the sky, to the seas. It’s the kind of stuff romance and wishes are made of. You must do this.

What you shouldn’t do: pay attention to the vendors toting a tiny loris about. The mini primates often have their teeth removed by handlers as they have a toxic bite that can cause anaphylactic shock and death. They are nocturnal and sloth-like—not intended for being paraded about on the beach for photo ops.

What you should do: Order Penang curry and a Chang at Red Chopsticks. Order an Aussie burger stacked with 200g of Aussie beef, pickled beets, bacon and a fried egg at Two Chefs.

dscf6811

Be prepared: We were late to the Phuket party. My sister went 15 years ago and talked about two dollar beach huts and banana pancakes for a song. Now? As one guide book suggested, “Phuket is being loved to death.” Every other business is a bar, restaurant, Jeep rental, cheap massages or a dive shop. It’s a surreal, fabricated sun destination where you basically see zero locals, save for the beach vendors and wait staff. But the banana smoothies are really something to postcard home about.

dscf6613

It’s inundated with tourists. It’s not backpackers. It’s the roller bag set. Cruise ships are parking here.

When we did the paradise math, it went something like this:

1.5 hours Toronto to Montreal

13 hours Montreal to Beijing

4.5 hours Beijing to Bangkok (*don’t eat the breakfast spag bol that they serve in-flight)

1.5 hours Bangkok to Phuket

Times two.

It’s a lot for a place that is showing its wrinkles. It’s been found. It’s tired.

Disclosure: We didn’t bother with any excursions, opting to just flake out and take in the beachy vibe and eats because China’s itinerary whipped us. The 12 hour time change was like a swift and long-lasting sucker punch. We chatted with other who had signed up for “elephant experiences” and island trips that ended up being gong shows—mostly sitting in traffic and spending more hours going to and fro, instead of in the actual destination.

It’s cheap, but not cheap enough to justify the flight time or expense.

Here’s a suggestion: order some pad Thai, some crispy spring rolls and watch 30 Degrees in February instead.

Or, get out of Phuket. Go north. But be sure to fit in Bangkok and some ping pong.

dscf6606

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.