Sip That

Microadventure: Prince Edward County

Have you ever worried that maybe you’ve over-romanticized a place? Did nostalgia and gauzy honeymoon love make it something it wasn’t?

The last (and only time in this decade) that Kim and I were in Prince Edward County was a miserable September weekend in 2010. The skies were bruised with clouds and rain spit on us the entire time. Winter felt like it was breathing down our tanned summer necks too soon. We drove around the County on a whim with a crude map and followed even cruder signs to the emerging wineries in Wellington. We hadn’t booked a hotel and spent a few hours backing out of B&B’s with no vacancy, crappy panelled cottages that smelled like wet dog and instant coffee and lacklustre waterfront hotels. The Waring House was the perfect weather shelter with a Jacuzzi tub and on-site pub (check, check!).

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We loved PEC from the get-go, despite the drizzle and slop. It’s hung in the recesses of our mind like a retired jersey. There was a hesitation we were nervous to address. What if it wasn’t what we painted it to be? (And, in our nostalgic minds, all the colours–oils even–were streaked across the canvas like fireworks). What if we were just glassy-eyed from Malbec and our proposed area of relocation was a lunchbox letdown?

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Whew. Crisis averted. We are even deeper in the love quicksand now with our pastoral affair. We picked up a stack of local glossies and real estate guides before lunch. I was already in fast-forward mode, dog-earing pages, telling Kim about the local farm where we could go see alpacas get sheared. September was the big cheese festival in Picton. In the fall we could go to the observatory and help band migrating saw-whet owls. We could sleep in prospector tents and learn how to make beer and pluck our own greens at Fronterra.

Yeah, hooked.

The County is vibrating with everything from leggy wines to sausage makers to beekeepers to lavender fields. The entire area is perfumed by lilac forests. There are cutesy post offices, tiny library branches, bike trails and independent bookstores (wow!). Kim pictured us stand-up paddle boarding and walking the 49km Millennium trail end-to-end with some re-fuel stops offering Brut.

The thing is, PEC is a hotbed of creativity. Everyone here is chasing a dream or already sinking their teeth into it. There are countless galleries, colourful cafes, bike shops and over 40 wineries. There are bed and breakfast owners building octagon-shaped homes with straw bale insulation. North America’s first off-grid vineyard is here. Karlo Estates is North America’s first vegan certified winery. Stuff is going on. People network here and know each other by their dog and beat-up pick-up. The passion is tangible—this is a community populated with a surplus of talent, knowledge, nerdy obsessions and ambition. We want to live there.

There’s a silent handshake in PEC, a collective agreement to help buoy everyone in full dream pursuit. The very land is appreciated for its bounty and I believe, will be protected at all costs from wind turbines or horizon-clotting high rises. As we drove from Carrying Place to Bloomfield, we noticed several barn walls acting as open-concept galleries.

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The Barn Quilt Project was formed in late 2013 in recognition of Ontario’s disappearing landscapes: old timber-frame barns and farms. The movement kickstarted in Ohio in 2001, and has had a bucolic ripple effect. There are over 60 ‘barn quilts’ across the County, most measuring eight square feet. Pulled from traditional quilting patterns, the design of a single quilt block is painted on MDO (medium density overlaid) plywood. They create a true rambling outdoor gallery—you can even pick up a map and follow the trail.

Kim gushed over all the leaning barns—all that precious barn board! Her woodworker brain was on fire with possibility.

Obviously, as owners of a 153-year-old stone cottage, we pride ourselves in being caretakers of history. Seeing neglected barns being repurposed as gallery spaces, airbnb hotspots and wineries is a full circle win.

The Owl’s Nest B&B

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For our microadventure, we had very micro time to suck up the macro scenery and scout out real estate. Our home base was the Owl’s Nest B&B in Carrying Place. Janna and Jake have created a homesteader chic suite amongst the stands of lilacs. The welcoming committee are Pajamas and Slippers (not to put on, but they will be on you). The dogs are as affable as the owners who immediately invited us in to check out their main living quarters (wow!). Janna was quick to write out her faves in the area (I love when residents are such proud ambassadors) and we liked the idea of beer-battered perch at the Agrarian in Bloomfield. Ten years ago there was talk of the “100 Mile Diet.” Here? It’s the 10 mile diet, or, one mile with the owners sourcing as close to the restaurant as possible. (There’s even a market downstairs from the Agrarian where you can stock up on hotel room charcuterie and cheese.

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We dumped our bags inside the Nest (not before grazing on half a Mason jar of complimentary house made granola studded with cashews and dried apricots). The fridge was generously stocked with milk, cream, OJ, fresh eggs, strawberry preserves and half a loaf of whole wheat bread. In the freezer there were black bean and egg breakfast burritos laced with cheese and chili if we wanted—yes! We needed more time to eat!). The space is the perfect crash pad with coffee, tea, hot cocoa, toaster oven and stove top. It’s a B&B but without that awkward morning situation of small talk with other guests, or sleepily conversing with owners. You’re in charge of breakfast here.

The shower is a rainfall dream (Janna, a mad potter, has tricked out everything in clay here–from the shower tiles to the lamps to the coffee mugs), the bed a total cloud to sleep upon. The extras are all here: a selection of herbs, hot Dijon, soya sauce (for the sushi set), a small cooler for daytrippers, flashlights, bug spray, live clean body lotion, alba honeydew shampoo and a fun collection of books. The categories were a jumble—everything from philosophy to carnival worker memoirs, The World According to Gorp to How to Knit Your Own Dog.

I’m skipping ahead, but, I’m the writer here, so I’m in charge. That night we had a laugh going through Janna and Jake’s in-house DVD collection. What a gender blend of The Family Guy and the Sopranos to Bellydance Techniques, Yoga by Candlelight, Sex in the City, Fleetwood Mac in concert and Terminator. (We settled on Sideways as the vino-centric movie seemed appropriate and necessary viewing).

We were totally kitted out at the Owl’s Nest and hated to leave the zen-oozing grounds, but…

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Kim and I have a picture on the bedside table of us in the just-opened barn studio space of Karlo Estates from 2010. The upstairs loft was full of easels and paintings in various stages. The surrounds made you want to paint alpacas and inhale (not the paint—it smells like history and legend at Karlo).

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In 2010 we bought a bottle of Malbec that was like drinking red brick and horse blankets. Nothing has come close since. We drank it back in my Annex apartment by the fire, probably listening to Jann Arden and Tucker Finn on repeat. We celebrate a lot of things, chronically, so, the occasion in particular that made us open the bottle is amiss, but, it’s reassuring to know that in the near future we’ll be in closer proximity to the liquid velvet that they bottle.

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When we walked in to the tasting room I tried to not be all teenage-girl-Justin-Bieber-screamer-like, and elbowed Kim as we passed Doug Gilmour. Doug Gilmour! My dad is still envious that I met Janet Jones (Gretzky) back in highschool (skipping out before exams to go for Shirley Temples at Callahan’s). She signed my fluorescent pink Vuarnet t-shirt and I think my dad paid me $20 bucks for it. Still has it too. Crap, I should have had Doug sign my tee or blot me with red wine.

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Calm, cool and as collected as early morning wine tastings allow you to be, we allowed congenial Karlo staff member Liza to walk us through a proper tasting with Little Bug, the resident Karlo cat, curling around our wine glasses. The nibbles here really put the other wineries in the dust. Liza paired the flight with varietal IQ, laughter, asiago, cheddar, bleu, garlic stuffed olives and fat walnuts. The Sangiovese took my first place ribbon while Kim leaned toward the cab franc and Quintus blend. The VanAlstine white port (yes, there is such a divine thing) with a bite of bleu cheese was a surprising encounter. Fireside, lakeside, bedside, anywhereside, this port-style wine is like Riesling’s sweeter and sexier cousin.

And then, you know, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time, with garlic breath from that garlic-stuffed olive that seemed great at the time. With a Cheshire cat smile, Doug pulled us into his circle with a generous pour and  introduced us to his sophisticated line-up of Gilmour Wines: Corazon (“heart” in Spanish– a broad-shouldered tobacco and dark chocolate red), Orus (“leader”—think tangerine, silk, melons and meadows), and, your new summer prerequisite: Maddison (named after his daughter) rose. This one is the al fresco ticket.

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We left Karlo knowing that we’d had a rare sneak peek on the dynamic partnership between co-founder and owner Sherry Karlo and Doug. Why be legendary in just one niche (Sherry is a visual artist with serious accolades while Doug and his #93 Leafs jersey need little intro.)? Even rock ‘em-sock ‘em hockey player Kim would agree that a sun-soaked vineyard and conversation over pinot grigio is a palatable transition from the adrenalin and sweat-choked arena locker room (Though Doug still hangs out near the ice, coaching the Kingston Frontenacs.)

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Somehow we squeezed in The Grange, Three Dog Winery and smoked meat sandwiches with briny pickles at the Agrarian. We’ll have to return for the beer-battered perch on a bun (sold out). The place transforms into a speakeasy on weekends—another reminder of the ever-present coolness of the County.

Before turning homeward bound (a three hour slog), we drove around Consecon and Fish Lake, Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh (and a few other burghs) nodding in agreement that we’d be mentally well-nourished and stimulated in the County. We’re ready to take pastoral to the next level. Yes, there will be rosemary growing, beehives abuzz and, one of us will probably be glassblowing in no time. This is what happens here.

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So, now we just need a place with a sumptuous sunset view, on some body of water (pond, lake, creek), maybe walking distance to a winery and wood-fired pizza oven. Polished cement floors with radiant heating, a Japanese soaker tub, some Carrera marble, fieldstone fireplace, loft bedroom, bookshelf with one of those sliding ladders, a Wolf stove, a workshop that is a little taller than Smurf-height for Kim, floor-to-ceiling windows that retract and open up to a cedar deck and that above-mentioned mill pond, lake, burbling creek…that’s all.

We definitely need a place with an outdoor fire pit so we can look up at those stars and watch them realign as they always do for us.

Stay tuned.

Categories: Passport Please, Sip That | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Rum Diaries Part 3: Grenada, with Madison Violet

It seems as though we’ve been on a destination concert-roadie streak as of late. There was the 60 hour jetsetter trip to see Alison Moyet in Manhattan in November, and booking flights to see Madison Violet in Calivigny Bay, Grenada last week was a no-brainer. Both were top-secret birthday surprises for Kim, though I blew New York early on. I had to avoid all words that began with “Gr” since August to avoid another slip-up.

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I surreptitiously researched the Spice Isle with a squirreled away Bradt guide from the library while she was working and sleeping. I learned that “lambie souse” had no lambie in it. The traditional dish is actually made from conch (lambie). Pig souse is a dish of knuckles and trotters with grated cuke. I made note of the “oil down” (pronounced “oil dong”)—the marriage of breadfruit, salted meat, coconut milk and spice–which sounded more palatable than the manicou (opossum).
I secretly read The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof. Years ago I salivated over her cookbook meets travel memoir, The Embarrassment of Mangoes.  Her second book is a continuation of her glam yachtie life cruising the West Indies, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Dominican, Haiti and beyond with her salty dog husband. The Spice Necklace includes several moorings and delicious reflections on their time in Grenada. Her crash-course galley encounters with tropical fruits and veg (if you’ve ever attempted anything with breadfruit, you will nod along here) and spice discoveries is as seductive as the Barefoot Contessa and her talk of all things butter and cream.
Now I get Vanderhoof’s love affair with 12 degrees latitude. Situated 100 miles north of Venezuela, Grenada is so perfumed with wild cilantro, oregano and nutmeg, that a simple walk outdoors smells like you are deep inside a kitchen. My near-achilles-snapping runs along the roller coaster road through Egmont were infused with intoxicating natural incense. It’s a shame that the only recognizable waft in Canada is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Oh, and passing by a mushroom farm. Ugh.

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I knew before we left that we’d be well fed and rummed in Grenada (there are three official rum distilleries—Clarke’s Court being our paralyzing go-to). And entertained. Madison Violet was scheduled to perform twice during our stay at Le Phare Bleu Boutique Hotel. I first crossed paths with Madison Violet in Dunnville, Ontario at a tiny bookstore called The Reader’s Cafe. Dunnville is still primarily a one stoplight town with five tired chicken wing and pizza roadhouses, a legion and a (now shuttered) Bick’s pickle factory and that’s it. To have a bookstore open in the town was revolutionary. To have talent and the likes of Madison Violet in house was probably the last great thing to happen in Dunnville.

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Superficially speaking, it was a foxy picture of the Madison Violet girls—Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac that lured me to their show. They were hot babes with guitars and sly smiles, so that alone was grounds for a night out.
Rather instantly, Madison Violet became the soundtrack of our love life. Their folk + pop smash-up lyrics intertwine classic themes: love and home—with musings pulled directly from Brenley’s roots in Kincardine (Lake Huron, Ontario)and Lisa’s Creignish, Nova Scotia upbringing. Brenley’s distinct voice (think of the sexy purr of Kim Carnes, Demi Moore and Holly Hunter) and Lisa’s high-octane fiddle and violin riffs are unmatchable.

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Their syrupy vocals of longing, desire and anticipation pumped out of Kim’s BMW on repeat a decade ago. I’ve run to the girls on my iPod from Uganda to Grenada. To see them in such a unique environment—bobbing on a barge at a dinghy concert, set the concert-goer bar even higher.

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We were well-spoiled at Le Phare Bleu—the Madison Violet VIP package and beachfront villa accommodation has really ruined us for any future hotel stays. Owners Dieter Burkhalter and Jana Caniga fused their passions of sailing, restaurant ownership and live music into a property that holds you captive with its commitment to guest satisfaction (you don’t even have to worry about packing your own adaptor plug for recharging stuff. And, the soundtrack poolside from The Deck restaurant at Le Phare is like listening to my own playlist. None of the annoying thumpathumpa all-inclusive resort slop on repeat).

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Really, Kim and I could only bear to pry ourselves a way from Le Phare for a day—mostly to get a more educated glimpse of the island, outside the boutique hotel property.
Rum-punched at Grand Anse

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We subjected ourselves to the adventure that is synonymous with the local bus system. Let’s just say, for $2.50 EC (East Caribbean dollar–about $1.10 CAD), we received full value for our wide-eyed hell ride through the rabbit warren-like neighbourhoods and hilly hairpins of St. George. Picture this: a reggae-blasting kamikaze mini-van cum sardine can-missile.
With velvet humidity upping the “feels-like” temp to 42 we made our way to Morne Rouge to get rum-punched and search out salt cod cakes. A few sinewy boys did beach calisthenics, another lean baggy-shorted group were bending it like Beckham. The cerulean water matched the sky.
Three hours later we discovered that we’d been dropped off at Grand Anse beach (a 3km stretch of sand—Grenada’s most famed beach), not Morne Rouge as we requested—but, regardless, we had the beach entirely to ourselves.
That is, until we had visitors. No one wanted to braid our hair (something white people should never do) or charge us for a photo with a cranky iguana wearing sunglasses. There was none of the usual beach nonsense (annoying figure-8-ing jet skis, snorkelling trip pushers) found in hot spots like Mexico, Dominican or Cuba. Instead we were offered pot, nutmeg syrup, shark teeth, a hand massage slash palm reading (slash sex offer) or a full-body aloe vera rub.

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And sometimes, even when you say no ten times, you find yourself getting sexual advice from the hand masseuse anyway (apparently I’m sexually frustrated according to my wrist bones), or, slathered/slimed in aloe by a persistent aloe salesman. Picture this: Ghostbusters-style sliming. Word to the wise: though aloe gel is clear it stains purple and yellow, like a massive bruise—as witnessed in my shoulder bag the day after being slimed and on Kim’s tank top and surf shorts.
After a good sliming and accepting my apparent sexual frustration, Kim and I found a rum source. Reminiscent of a lemonade stand—but better. For $20 EC ($10 CAD), we were totally rum-punched in the face. I actually asked Kim, semi-frightened for our health–“Oh my god, do you think this is actually gasoline?” If anyone lit a match near my mouth, whoa…

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We found palatable fish cakes, more greasy than memorable. A few dashes of any West Indies hot sauce and it was like eating flames—which led to more gasoline-rum chugging. Vicious circle.
After our day at Grand Anse we found a group of taxi drivers circled around a bottle of Vodka. They offered us some octopus soup (which was delicious—and who doesn’t like sharing parking lot soup with boozing taxi drivers?) One of them agreed to giving us a lift to the Aquarium. I had asked to go to Bananas, a night club where you could supposedly drink Carib in an actual cave, but, everyone we spoke with said, no, we wanted to go to Aquarium, not Bananas for the cave.
Aquarium was lovely, but, it was more of a rock face than a cave (we didn’t bother to pursue the Bananas cave). And, more of a fish tank (with two goldfish) than an aquarium. We trusted our vodka-schmoozed driver to return and pick us up an hour and a bit later (which he did, an hour +++ later). The lamb kofta and pesto spanokapita (Greek in Grenada?) were precious. Especially after our questionable fried fish cakes that seemed to spell diarrhea in the near future.
That was probably the biggest surprise about Grenada—no diarrhea! If you’ve read any of my blogs from Belize, the Congo or Egypt, you’ll know that I’m prone to shitting my pants around the world. In fact, you can actually drink the tap water in Grenada and not worry about having to finish your frozen pina colada on the toilet.

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Staying at Le Phare Bleu for six nights, we were privy to working our way through the menu. Hello whiskey burgers on the grill! Margherita pizzas studded with savoury oregano and heaps of stretchy cheese set on fire with hot sauce. Pancakes with the citrus perfume of rose-tinged nutmeg syrup. Nutmeg-kicked coffee. Chicken roti that was both fiery and filling. Perfectly turned and fluffed mushroom-stuffed omelettes and Cumberland sausages. Chunky fish cakes hot and golden off the griddle. Ginger beef with generous chunks of ginger and a sautéed buttery cabbage that begged for seconds.
At the hotel mini-market the creamy rum and raisin ice cream beckoned. Buckets of Carib at happy hour ($24 EC–$12 CAD) accompanied many a sunset. The Pain Killers (coconut milk, rum and nutmeg) did just as they suggested.
We ate like royalty, drank like robbers and fell to sleep to a mad chorus of tree frogs. The beds at Le Phare were like sleeping atop angel food cake. We made our way around all the seating in our villa—the balcony was a favourite perch for taking in the hummingbird traffic. It was difficult to read with the constant drive-by of hummingbirds, finches and flycatchers. And poolside–with the distraction of flashy catamarans gliding in and out of the marina. Yes, tough terrain.
We never did get to the oil down, lamb souse or soursop. But, you always have to leave something to return to—and though we had daily mongoose sightings and found a millipede as long as my arm, we need to go back to see the Mona monkey and an armadillo. And, to see the Madison Violet girls again, in their element. Stay tuned, they’re promising a return gig in 2014 at Le Phare Bleu.

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*The villas at Le Phare Bleu have fully equipped kitchens, luxe modern bathrooms (ultra-urban walk-in showers), cloud-like beds, complementary shampoos, shower gel and lotions that smell exactly like key lime pie. They also provide an oregano oil mosquito repellent. Wi-fi, kayaks and two Hobie cats are available for use. Each villa has a fridge with ice-maker and filtered water. The mini market on the hotel grounds sells beer, spirits and wine, snacks and has an ample selection of groceries–with a fresh fruit and veg market once a week. The Deck offers casual dining and poolside bar service with a Friendship Table on Wednesdays night (communal, family-style meals with a set menu). The Lighthouse Ship Restaurant only operates during high season while the lower ship deck serves as a museum. The hotel is located 20 minutes from the airport.

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