Confessions of a Ballerunner

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Archive for the category “Food”

First Bite Out of the Big Apple: The Rest of the Weekend in NYC…

No matter what city I visit, invariably I find myself drawn to the large urban parks: Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Shubie Park in Dartmouth, Centennial Park in Moncton, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, UK, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, etc, etc… So, it is not surprising how affected I was by the beauty of NYC’s Central Park. My sister, a former resident of Toronto, tells me I would love High Park there; although I’m sure I’ve run through it several years back when I was in town and went out for a run with a group from the Wellington Street Running Room, I always end up sticking to a very urban route for my runs when in Toronto, mostly because there’s so much interesting people-watching and window-shopping to be had!..

Back to NYC…

On our first big day exploring the city, we took the subway and visited SoHo, curious to check out the reputed great shopping to be had. I was also interested in the opportunity to practise my street photography, which I was certain would not disappoint for unique scenery. SoHo was definitely a grittier neighborhood compared to Midtown, but had an undeniable vibrancy and some beautiful architecture to admire. You had to be really vigilant crossing the streets in SoHo, however, as it was a bit of a free-for-all with the carnival of cars, trucks, and people in a rush to get to their destination.  As for the shopping, we weren’t that successful; though I did manage to pick up a nice lemon-colored belt from Bloomingdale’s. Otherwise, we mostly came across super-trendy, hipster shops that catered more to the teenage or 20-something set. That night, we hit Broadway, and saw the Irish musical, Once, which we loved, at the Jacobs Theatre.

Day two was a Saturday, and had us spending several hours walking through Central Park after eating lunch on a park bench. I went crazy photographing the rowboats at the Lake. We also walked by the bustling Boathouse, but didn’t stop for food. After leaving the Park, we hit 5th Avenue and walked for several blocks on the Park’s perimeter until we came upon all the fancy stores like Bergdorf Goodman (which we didn’t dare enter) at 58th Street. And FAO Schwartz. And the Nike store. It was retail nirvana for a while before going on to 30 Rockefeller Plaza to venture to the Top of the Rock, taking a quick peek inside the MoMA‘s gift shop, and some more shopping at J. Crew. On our way back to our hotel in Times Square, we passed the the NBC Studios, where Saturday Night Live (one of our favourite comedy shows ever!) is taped, a street vendor selling New Yorker cover art prints (I bought two for $5), Radio City Music Hall, Magnolia Bakery (ok, I had to stop in while my sis continued on to the hotel).  When I finally made it back to the hotel, we decided to go out for pizza (which was awesome!) before meeting up with friends for some late night drinks at our hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant. All in all a very full day.

Our last day, the Sunday, was really relaxed. We did brunch at Central Park and then walked along Central Park West until we hit the American Museum of Natural History. My little sis was quite thrilled to recognize the Museum from the Ben Stiller movie, Night at the Museum: by contrast, I kept being reminded of the Nanny Diaries with Scarlett Johansson. We decided to see the exhibit, Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, and Culture, which was the most interactive, educational exhibit I’d ever seen at a museum. Educators could’ve picked up an endless number of pointers on how to teach content to a diverse audience using various multimedia approaches including excellent infographics and typography. My little sis, a foodie, also loved it. We – or I – had hoped to dash down to Lower Manhattan to bike across the Brooklyn Bridge before our respective flights were to depart for Canada, but it was not to be. There was no time. (Sigh) I was a bit bummed by this missed opportunity since I had heard this was a photographer’s dream shot, but NYC is simply too large to even attempt to do in one weekend. It will clearly take several trips to see all the other neighborhoods I had wanted to see like the Meatpacking District, TriBeCa, Greenwich Village, etc. Until next time then, NYC; it’s been a slice… 🙂

Pax shop

After discovering the Pax Wholesome Foods shop following a run through Central Park one morning, my sister and I quickly became ‘regulars’ for grabbing quick, healthy lunches or brunches to take to the Park for an al fresco meal on a park bench under the trees. We loved how Pax posted the total calories for all their food; it made meal planning and purchasing decisions really easy.

People in Central Park

This was the scene in Central Park mid-morning on the Sunday of our trip. Tons of people were out enjoying the beautiful, warm day by foot, bike, in-line skates, or rowboat. We even had an interesting conversation with a jolly homeless lady, who reminded me of the elderly beggar lady selling tuppence a bag to feed the birds in Mary Poppins. Hearing we were visiting her city, she proudly recommended a bakery nearby for the best, freshly-baked cookies. (Clearly, she had sized up our sweet tooth correctly!)

Central Park carousel

Ever since seeing them all over Paris, I am drawn to carousels. Not to ride them, but to observe happy children bobbing up and down and all around on their trusty steeds. My favorites were the one outside of the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre, which I passed every day on the way to my flat, and of course, the famous carousel at the foot of the Butte to Sacre-Coeur Cathedral also in Montmartre. There were hints of a lovely carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was mostly covered by a tarp the day I walked through that beautiful urban park. [Above: What a magical, whimsical childhood pleasure the carousel is. This colorful carousel in Central Park clearly enchanted the kids (and even the adults) who rode it. ]

Central Park bicycles

As I found out, NYC is quickly becoming a bike city. I was impressed by the reconfiguration of Broadway Avenue along Times Square, which had a protected, painted bike lane added to encourage cycling. If NYC can do it, then there is no excuse for other cities not to follow suit and encourage active transport. Bikes were also all the rage in Central Park. As soon as we approached the south entrance to the Park, we were aggressively solicited for a bike rental. As much as I would’ve loved to have ridden a bike through Central Park, I knew I’d be stopping every few feet to take a photo, so regrettably passed on the opportunity for this first trip.

Central Park Terrace detail

This is a view looking down from the upper Terrace in Central Park; the tree-canopied mall is to the left (up the stairs) and the Bethesda Fountain to the right. I took this picture on the morning I went for a run through the Park. I loved the architectural detail of the Terrace’s stonework. It actually reminded me a bit of the stonework you see along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa just below the National Arts Centre near Parliament Hill.

Central Park art vendor

All along the mall, there were vendors set up with their wares. I loved the colors of the artwork on display at this particular kiosk.

horse & pigeons

A queue of horses & carriages lined a section of 5th Avenue near the south entrance to Central Park. This white horse was particularly patient tolerating the aggressive flock of thirsty pigeons, each jockeying for a perch on his pail of refreshing water. A carriage ride through Central Park is an iconic thing to do, but something I would be more inclined to do in the fall or winter with a handsome suitor.

sidewalk book sale

After I was able to tear myself away from photographing the Lake and its boats from all angles, we exited Central Park and walked along 5th Avenue, where we spotted a sidewalk book sale. There were some beautiful, New York-themed, hard-cover childrens’ books on display, the artistry of which just can’t be duplicated on an e-reader.

Magnolia Bakery

On recommendation from a friend at work, I stopped in to check out the famous Magnolia Bakery on 6th Avenue and its cupcakes. My sister was spent from the long afternoon of walking, so she headed back to the hotel, leaving me to my own devices – a dangerous proposition considering my physical addiction to all things chocolate. Fortunately, I only emerged with two cupcakes – one for me and one for my sis. They were delicious! 🙂

NYC subway musician_B&W

On our way back from SoHo, we encountered this Rastafarian musician, who distinguished himself by his warm smile and chilled out demeanor, greeting various subway commuters as they passed by him, seemingly perfectly at home on his bench straddling the subway platforms. He also had an undeniable air of urban chic, perfectly put together in his long, flowing robe with leather pant leg peaking through; the curved chopines completed the look. I was compelled to pause momentarily in order to snap his picture.

subway platform_B&W

Waiting for the subway for an afternoon of exploring in SoHo.

NYC subway blur_B&W

Roz_SoHo graffiti

My little sis looking all bad-ass, hip hop chic in SoHo. 😉

SoHo street scene_B&W

Bustling street corner in SoHo with splendid architecture and where hipster shops – and aggressive drivers – abound.

SoHo foodtruck

Line-up for lunch at a food truck in SoHo.

Roz in SoHo_B&W

My sis seeking refuge under a canopy at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo before the drops of rain turned into a deluge and we sought shelter inside Felicity‘s old haunt. Unfortunately, Ben Covington did not serve us coffee.

yellow taxis_Times Square_B&W

This was a scene we passed many times during our extended weekend in NYC. Times Square is definitely an assault on the senses with it bright lights & neon colors, endless noise from cars & people, and all sorts of street smells – good and bad. It’s hard to imagine how much crazier it gets here for New Year’s Eve.

David Letternan cyclist

I was a bit awed being so close to the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Late Show with David Letterman is taped. Staying in a hotel in Times Square was wonderful for a first trip to NYC.

pizza night

The photographer is usually more comfortable behind her lens. Street scene in Midtown on our way to a supper of pizza. Yum!

Roz & Heidi_Once musical_B&W

After dodging the raindrops in SoHo to grab a subway back to Midtown, I decided to try and snag some last-minute tickets to Once at the Jacobs Theater. I was in luck, though we were in the nosebleed section in the upper balcony. It was a beautiful, ornate old theatre, and the house was packed on that Friday night. As a huge fan of the eponymous film, Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova,and The Swell Season, I was thrilled to hear those familiar alternatingly joyful and heart-rending Irish songs played live by a cast of talented musicians and singers.

Once musical_B&W

Cast treating the eager audience to a lively musical warm-up prior to their performance of Once at the Jacobs Theater.

Skycraper & piston_B&W

While waiting for my sis outside the ATM, I noticed this interesting display of geometry and perspective along Broadway Avenue.

FAO Schwartz guard

Like I had done while visiting Hamley’s toy store in London, UK last fall, I posed (this time, without reluctance) with the affable ‘toy soldier’ greeting customers at the entrance of FAO Schwartz on 5th Avenue. (Toy shops are super-fun places to visit, especially when you have kids or nieces/nephews to spoil! I have to admit that I personally love toy stores and the traditional or unusual toys you can often find at these places. Also, I totally had to see the Big piano that Tom Hanks famously played.

The Big Piano_Heidi

This was awesome! I really had to cajole my little sis into doing this with me, though, especially since there were just little kids trying out the keys at first. However, it only takes one to start a trend and so after we had our 30 seconds of fun or so on the piano, more adults followed suit and we’re equally delighted by the experience. We’re all just Big kids in the end.

TopoftheRock_B&W

Top of the Rock with Empire State Building in the background. Word to the wise: the view is spectacular from the top (70 stories up on a super-fast elevator), but think twice about purchasing the photos; they’re a bit of a rip-off and you just end up being posed in front of a fake backdrop. We  were only permitted to choose  one measly $5 electronic pic (from the four that were taken), which was really poor quality. (I ended up Photoshopping it – see below.) You can, of course, get more expensive photo packages with the prints inserted into frames for you, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. Maybe if you were planning to propose (or be proposed to), or marking another special occasion. Even then… maybe best to just bring along a friend who’s a good photographer. Also, it’s probably more dramatic to view the city from that vantage point at sunset or at night. We went in the late afternoon, so the sun was really bright and hot!

Butterfield Market bike

We visited the Butterfield Market on Lexington Avenue in the Upper East Side for a quick al fresco lunch on a bench in front of their shop. Lovely, old neighborhood food market, but pricey!

Met Museum

Sadly, we did not have enough time to explore the exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but at least we made it inside and soaked in a bit of the scene on the steps. (I didn’t realize it was located on the perimeter of Central Park along 5th Avenue.) I did manage to pick up a wonderful hard-cover historical perspective on Central Park in the Museum’s store called Central Park: Then and Now.

Heidi & Roz at 30Rock_B&W_text

After initially receiving a corrupt electronic file of the picture we had taken with the fake backdrop of NYC at 30 Rock, I received one that was in color (while the background was black & white) and uncropped with the shiny black floor showing. Needless to say, I got to work in Photoshop and pimped the pic up a bit. Too bad I don’t know how to Photoshop in more glam clothes worthy of a ‘Vogue – New York’ cover shoot. (Oh well…)

First Bite Out of the Big Apple: Weekend in NYC

I’ve visited a fair number of US cities over the years but surprisingly, never New York City. So, when my corporate wunderkind little sis suggested we meet up in the Big Apple for an extended weekend, I was all in.

Ever the planner and trip-maximizer, I happily marched over to the World of Maps shop in Hintonburg to pick up some pre-trip research materials, namely Lonely Planet’s Discover New York City, National Geographic’s Walking New York, a super-handy and compact Popout map of New York, and of course, the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine at my local newsstand. This systematic review of NYC was rounded out by consultations with NYC-savvy friends and colleagues along with studying a vast number of electronic articles and resources.

I figured, rather blusteringly on retrospect, that hey, I organized and executed a solo first trip to Europe last fall by myself, so how hard could it possibly be to take in all of NYC that I wanted to see on a 3 1/2 day extended weekend?

Afterall, I thought, I’m an infinitely curious person with energy to spare (especially when it comes to travel and exploration), I’ve got a keen sense of direction, and am a consummate strategist and contingency planner. Perfect, right? Wrong. Despite all of these desirable qualities for travel in tote, even I would be forced to admit that I am not super-human and this portfolio of assets, though valuable, would still not permit me to simply discard any notion of having to make rational choices or trade-offs and instead live like a hedonist in an economically-lawless utopia (or dystopia, depending on your view).

In the end, in spite of not getting to see everything I wanted to see, I still wound up with a good introduction to NYC. Kind of like making new friends at a meet & greet with a promise to meet up again for more than just wine & apps. Until next time then, here are a few slices out of my Big Apple trip. (More to follow later…)

Waiting for train into Penn Station from Newark Airport

Waiting on the platform for a train into Penn Station from Newark Airport, which was kind of sketchy…

On Broadway Ave outside our hotel in Times Square

Exploring Broadway Avenue outside our hotel in Times Square after rolling my suitcase (with a broken wheel) 14 blocks  through a sea of people to get to our hotel. As my little sis aptly observed, NYC is like ‘Toronto on steroids’. Indeed. Couldn’t have described it better, myself.

Interior of Marriott Hotel in Times Square

Interior of NY Marriott Hotel in Times Square where we stayed  overlooking the lounge below. The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether the design was representational or abstract. My logical-thinking left brain insisted that the repeating pattern of lines & curves was clearly a stylized rendering of musical notes and symbols along bars & staff lines as the hotel’s acknowledgement of being located on Broadway Avenue. Never did get around to validating this theory though…

View of Times Square from hotel window

View of Broadway Avenue/Times Square from our hotel window. It’s true what they say: New York never sleeps, though it was a lot quieter on the Sunday morning.

Grabbing a quick lunch at Pret a Manger near Times Square

When I was in London, UK last fall, an ex-pat friend there had introduced me to the popular Pret a Manger chain for picking up fast, healthy lunches. I was quite pleased to discover it upon arrival in NYC. They post total calorie counts for all their food, which is fantastic for helping one make purchasing decisions. Pax Wholesome Foods was a similar restaurant that posted total calorie counts for everything they sold. My little sis and I visited the Pax shop on Broadway in Midtown a couple of times to pick up lunch/brunch en route to Central Park for an al fresco meal under the trees on a park bench. Thanks to the posted calorie info, we discovered that a half-sandwich along with a small beverage and treat (usually a small cookie) provided ample energy to fuel an afternoon of walking the streets of NYC. It would be nice if restaurants in Canada likewise posted calorie info to help consumers (including travelers without access to home-cooked meals) make better food purchasing decisions.

Thursday evening diners at Eataly

On our first night in NYC, my little sis, her work colleague, and I decided to check out Mario Batali’s Eataly on Fifth Avenue for supper. I was particularly curious since the combination resto-market had come highly recommended by several friends. It did not disappoint! The space is huge and the vibe energetic, sophisticated but unpretentious (thank goodness, since I was not exactly rocking my most chic self in jeans & sneakers). It clearly looked like the go-to spot for the after-work crowd. After hearing we wouldn’t be able to snag a table for supper for close to an hour, we decided to check out the bar scene and soak in the atmosphere in the interim.

Eataly is a combination restaurant-market, so expect to see many people come in for different purposes including to pick up groceries, mingle and enjoy a few after-work drinks with co-workers, or relax over a leisurely supper with friends in the restaurant space. I personally thought Eataly had a magical, almost festive quality about it, making it a potentially great spot for a date or a celebratory outing. Speaking of dates – sort of, I was flattered to be approached by a well-dressed, lean, fit man while waiting in line for some stracciatella gelato on our way out of Eataly.  The guy, a silver-haired, smooth corporate type from Brooklyn, looked exactly like John Slattery of Mad Men fame. He chatted with me in line and then proceeded to buy my gelato. (Guys take note: buying a girl ice cream is always a good call compared to offering a cheesy pick-up line.) ‘John’ happened to also be out with two other variously intoxicated, but well-attired businessmen, who then (like loyal wingmen) proceeded to engage my sis and her colleague in sidebar conversation. After a while, and especially since everyone but me was sporting a wedding ring, we girls decided to conclude the evening festivities, much to our prospective suitors’ dismay. We quickly made our way out into the night, and after failing to hail a yellow cab despite our best efforts, we made a run for the nearest subway station under an inadequately-sized single umbrella as it began to rain again. [Above: The ‘meat market’ at Eataly.]

Wine & appetizers at the Eataly bar

The bar scene: Where we, along with the after-work crowd, initially congregated at Eataly. Small, elevated rectangular tables served as the anchor for delicious food & drink, animated conversation, and  the requisite people-watching. It was standing room only.

Enjoying wine, cheese, and a charcuterie plate

My comparatively more food & wine-savvy little sis & her colleague ordered a nice charcuterie plate with cheese along with some wonderful wine. It would be easy to spend the entire evening simply enjoying these delicacies, as the couple next to us seemed to be doing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & apps and plenty of socializing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & appetizers and lots of socializing at Eataly.

Running route along western side of Central Park

After our memorable, epicurean night out at Eataly, I was keen to get up early and go for a run in Central Park, which I had yet to explore. As someone who much prefers running on quiet trails in the woods to unforgiving asphalt in a noisy, urban, concrete jungle, Central Park turned out to be a little piece of paradise for me. [Above: Running route along western side of Central Park with the famous San Remo apartment cooperative in the background.]

Central Park mall

The lovely Central Park mall, which reminded me of the time I spent walking, running, and cycling through London’s Hyde Park last September, and to some degree, the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. NYC nannies with their precious charges, dog-walkers,visual artists, food and NYC knick-knack vendors, and musicians could all be seen along the route.

Central Park mall

A couple is spotted walking under the protection of their umbrellas along the Central Park mall on a cloudy morning marked by occasional light showers.

View of Bethesda Fountain near upper Terrace

Toward the end of my run, a view of Bethesda Fountain through the trees from the upper Terrace in Central Park.

Central Park St. Bernard puppy

I spotted this gorgeous, 4-month-old St. Bernard puppy named ‘London’ lounging at the  steps to the Lake in front of Bethesda Fountain. Of course, I had to pat him (he was so soft!) and chat with his gracious owner.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

'London' contemplating the beauty of Central Park

‘London’, like a Wordsworth, clearly contemplating the inspiring beauty of Central Park (all the while, unaware that I was crafting an elaborate dog-napping plan once I hit upon on a suitable diversionary tactic to distract his owner. ;-)).

Nostalgic gelato shop near south entrance of Central Park

Central Park had made such an impression on me that previous cloudy morning that for the remainder of my stay in NYC, it became somewhat of a ritual for me (and my sis) to visit this urban oasis each morning/early afternoon before hitting the busy streets and shops for a packed day of sight-seeing. [Above: Nostalgic gelato shop located near south entrance of Central Park.]

Father and son watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park

Father and son contentedly watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Four children gather at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Scooters and children seemed to be everywhere in Central Park. Here, four young children pause from their spirited play at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

Talented children's singing ensemble performing in the Terrace Arcade in Central Park

Soaring, angelic voices could be heard from the ornate Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park from a talented children’s musical ensemble. We encountered performers  of all sorts in the Park, including a lone saxophonist and a lively crew of very athletic tumblers.

View of the San Remo  across the Lake in Central Park

Wherever we walked in Central Park, I always found myself drawn back to the Lake to admire the scene of dozens of rowboats before me. It brought back fond memories of the all-too-brief afternoon I spent in Oxford, UK, last fall when I happened upon punters under the Magdalene Bridge. (Now, that was romantic on a scale of Lord Byron. (sigh)) [Above: Couples and families enjoying leisurely paddle across the Lake in Central Park with a view of the San Remo in the background.]

Fit couple in foreground enjoy leisurely paddle on the Lake in Central Park

A very fit, tanned, attractive middle-aged couple in the foreground articulates the romance of a paddle on the Lake perfectly, particularly as the woman enjoys a chauffered ride on the water like Cleopatra with her Mark Antony on the Nile.

Young boy stares longingly at the remote-control sailboats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

I came upon another lovely water scene at the Conservatory Water in Central Park, where a young boy stares longingly at the remote-controlled model sailboats gliding atop the pond in Central Park. A model sailboat-hire kiosk was located nearby, where children and adults alike indulged in this time-honored activity dating back to more than 135 years. Even E.B. White‘s beloved Stuart Little sailed these storied waters.

Vancouver: Is there a more beautiful Canadian city – despite all the rain?

I’m an East Coaster born and bred, and so I already come from God’s country – The Maritimes. Having said that, I’ve also lived for nearly a decade in Montreal, a city very near and dear to my heart. Known for its vibrant arts & culture scene, politics (provincially), gastronomy, and of course, the Habs. Montreal was also where I found my voice both personally and professionally.

It has been said that those who grew up by the sea will always feel the lure of the ocean even if they end up moving away. In other words, you can take the Maritimer away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean away from the Maritimer. And so, whenever I have the opportunity to spend some time by the sea – east coast or west coast – I take it! 🙂

Last week, I had to be out west for business, so I decided that once the work was completed, I would tack on a few extra days and fly over to Vancouver to hang out with my relatives and recharge with a little R&R and a lot of great outdoor recreation.

If you’ve never been to Vancouver, I highly recommend a visit. I’ve been there three times in all: once in 2002 (fall), 2012 (fall), and just last week (spring! :-)) with this latest trip. Don’t let Vancouver’s ‘wet blanket’ reputation dissuade you from exploring it. Despite the clouds, fog, and rain of last fall, there was still no shortage of natural beauty and activities to enjoy in the city, including shopping and great dining. As you’ll see from the photo spread below, the weather gods totally spoiled me during this latest trip. How many cities can deliver warm sunshine, fresh salt air from the ocean, snow-capped mountains, dense forests, lush vegetation (in the form of flowers, blossoms, and a thick urban tree canopy), a magnificent, oceanside city park, cool breezes at night, all manner of outdoor recreation (believe it or not, there is still some downhill skiing to be had at this time of year), shopping, and world-class dining all on the same trip?.. I thought not. Too bad it’s so expensive to live there!?.. 😦

So, this is a sunset view from the waterfront of Granville Island looking out toward downtown Vancouver. We hunted all over the place to find a gelato vendor that was open on a Monday night. Finally, we discovered the little Asian lady’s shop tucked unobtrusively between several other small tourist shops along the wharf.

View of harbour from Granville Island

Enjoying a gelato and the view of the harbour at dusk from Granville Island

This is a shot of the harbour fronting downtown Vancouver that I took while cycling through Stanley Park last fall. It was a damp, cool, cloudy, foggy day, but I thought the grey and blue tones produced a beautiful, moody landscape.

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

A popular tourist activity in downtown Vancouver is to take a flight on a float plane over to Vancouver Island. It’s tempting and the views are probably quite spectacular, but I think I will personally stick to the ferry service!

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront, fall 2012

These intrepid kayaking guys – at least one of them – were not shy about being photographed for posterity as they plied the sometimes choppy waters of the harbour from False Creek across the narrows dividing Granville Island from the downtown.

Kayakers in harbour near False Creek

Kayakers enjoying early evening paddle in False Creek harbour

This photo was snapped on my first afternoon roaming Granville Island on foot (I hung out a lot there!) using my Blackberry’s camera. It wasn’t a very high res pic, so I decided to sepia-fy it (à la MacAskill) in Photoshop to give it that old school feel.

Yacht club along Granville Island

Boats moored along Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

These guys and their vintage car were such a throwback to James Dean cool. So wished I’d brought my hard-core SLR camera to take their pic instead of my BB camera. At least, the BB was much more covert than a bulky SLR with a big, protruding lens.

Boys & their car

Boys & their cool retro car on Granville Island

Ahhh, the Public Market on Granville Island… Such a great vibe, despite it being high-tourist season now. Super place for people-watching and doing some photography. When I first visited it last fall (see pics below), it was not so bustling as it was last week, but weekends can still be teeming with people. The food – especially produce – looked amazing. I was so tempted to just buy my groceries there even though that would’ve been completely impractical stuffing perishables into a suitcase for a flight home. Except for the ocean outside, the Granville Island Public Market reminded me a bit of the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, where I previously made many fond gastronomical shopping memories.

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market, fall 2012

Good enough to eat!

A feast for the senses, fall 2012

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

A must-do activity – regardless the weather – while in Vancouver is to go for a bike ride around the seawall of Stanley Park. I read recently that the Dutch believe there is no such thing as bad cycling weather, only bad clothing choices. I would mostly concur with that assertion. It’s hard to imagine not enjoying the splendor of the Park – even if you happen to get caught in some rain. Could be quite Zen or even romantic!

Stanley Park Boathouse in the fall

View from Stanley Park Boathouse, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Van in background

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Vancouver in the background

Did I mention all the city beaches in Vancouver??? It seemed everywhere we ran or cycled, we came upon a beach. This one (below) was located on the west side of the Park facing English Bay. Clearly, school was out, as this beach was packed with sun-seeking students. I was amazed by the number of bikes. Vancouverites really embrace two-wheeled transport; at times, I felt like I was in a Little Amsterdam or Denmark.

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Yet another beach – Kitsilano. What was so interesting about this particular pic (below) was the Coney Island-like Kitsilano Showboat stage, whose history dates back to 1935. I discovered this little nostalgic gem while I was biking back from a trip out to UBC. The huge swimming pool located behind it was also a curious juxtaposition against the Kitsilano Beach waters of English Bay. You can see the small outdoor amphitheatre of seats in the foreground, where I spotted several runners racing up and down the steps for their morning work-out.

Kitsilano Showboat - a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Kitsilano Showboat – a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Pedaling a bit further, you bike through a sandy bit of trail that cuts across the main section of Kitsilano Beach before entering a more treed section of bike trail, where if you’re lucky, you will gaze upon a number of lovely sailboats dotting English Bay through the trees. The morning before these shots were taken, I was running through this area – sans camera, unfortunately – and saw the most perfect scene of tranquility in the greyness of the sky and the colorful sailboats bobbing peacefully on the glassy water. It was a breathtakingly beautiful scene that would’ve inspired a classic Kiff Holland nautical-themed watercolor.

Bike path along Kitsilano Beach

Bike path near Kitsilano Beach

View of English Bay

View of English Bay

This was a cute, spontaneous moment. Two kids on bikes and their mom were stopped along the trail staring intently up into a tree. The little girl announced with the earnestness of a budding biologist that they were observing a woodpecker carving the entryway to his waterfront tree house. I spotted him alright, but he certainly blended in well with the bark so that I really needed a zoom lens to capture his image clearly.

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

When I visited Vancouver for the first time back in 2002, I did a day trip by ferry out to Vancouver Island to explore Victoria and its famous Butchart Gardens (as well as the Rogers Chocolates flagship store and the Empress Hotel). I did not even know of the existence of the beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Garden located right in Vancouver! I learned of it this trip, however, because my cousin was helping host an evening fundraising event at the Gardens, so I was invited to tag along. Since I am not exactly a glad-handing, work-the-room extrovert, (au contraire!) I decided to explore the grounds and go on a bit of a photo shoot.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was the main building where the fundraising event was held. It was the perfect, sunny, warm evening for it. The setting was absolutely magical. Too bad I didn’t have a date! 😦

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

I loved wandering through the canopy of flower bushes and tree blossoms, but I also loved some of the interesting trees in the Asian garden section.  I think for my next trip to Vancouver, I will have to explore a lush, mature forest like that of Lighthouse Park recommended by my cousin.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was a particularly stunning section of the Garden. I love roses and the landscaping reminded me of when I was in France and visited Monet‘s Garden at Giverny. This rose garden definitely would’ve inspired an Impressionist canvas!

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

The hustle and bustle of Granville Street… Now this was a part of the city (lower Shaughnessy) that I spent a lot of time walking through. The retro Stanley Theatre (below) reminded me of something I would see in a Fred Herzog exhibition.

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

There is a great Chapters store on Broadway and Granville where I could (and almost did) spend hours whiling away the time browsing through the latest books.

Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

W Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

Shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

Hallowe’en display in Pottery Barn shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

bike

One word: Meinhardt. This was my adopted food haunt in Vancouver. And yes, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a really cool, European-like fine food emporium with sidewalk terrasse and colorful flowers on display that really knows fresh food and merchandising. I discovered this shop last fall and would go there every day to pick up a delicious homemade sandwich or salad, perhaps some yogurt and fruit, maybe a slice of banana bread or homemade granola bar, but always the requisite chocolate chip cookies +/- dark chocolate bar. This time around, I picked up a 6-inch decadent carrot cake for a birthday party and it was awesome – though I still am left wondering how off-the-chain delicious that decadent dark chocolate layer cake would’ve been – my cousin is not a chocoholic like I am, so carrot cake it was!.. Next time…

Meinhardt grocery store, fall 2012

Meinhardt grocery store on Granville Street, fall 2012

This poor Lab puppy looked so forlorn waiting outside in the rain last fall as his owner no doubt was inside enjoying a delicious, fresh, gooey cinnamon roll – probably straight out of the oven…

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Mmmm Purdy's along Granville Street, fall 2012

Mmmm… Purdy’s along Granville Street, fall 2012

If you are as addicted to Indian cuisine as I am, then no visit to Vancouver would be complete without a stop at one of Vikram Vij’s award-winning restaurants. Last fall, I was fortunate to be in town on business with a colleague who was acquainted with Vikram Vij, himself, so we decided to go to Vij’s one night for supper. We were greeted personally by Chef Vij and I was totally starstruck! It was a Friday night, so his restaurant was packed. They don’t take reservations, so we had to bide our time patiently at the back of the restaurant with all the other foodies, feasting on complementary wine and hors d’oeuvres. It was like a party atmosphere not unlike an after-work cocktail hour. Since my friend is Indian, I deferred to him for recommendations on what to order, but we shared our plates. He, having the famous lamb, of course. I settled for something vegetarian with (lots of) curry. We were stuffed, but it was worth it!.. Last week, my Vancouverite cousins and I went there on a Monday night and got a table right away. I think I was the only one who had eaten there before, ironically. We ordered four different dishes for sharing and it is safe to say, there was not a speck of food left on the plate when we finished. The pork tenderloin in curry sauce was particularly outstanding. I had to laugh at my super-slim cousins, who are accomplished varsity runners: they easily devoured their meal along with several rounds of naan bread. Afterward, I treated everyone to gelato on Granville Island, which required us to walk down hilly Granville Street (and then back up!) to get there. Good way to work off all that food!..

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij's two restos: Vij's and Rangoli

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij’s two restos: Vij’s and Rangoli at W 11th and Granville

A walk through the quiet, tony, tree enshrouded neighborhood of Shaughnessy, where a good proportion of Vancouver’s elite reside, is a relaxing diversion. The houses are imposing but tasteful, and the properties impeccably managed. These are the kind of homes one would expect to see featured in Canadian House & Home. An elegant black limousine stopped to allow me to cross the street during my walk, doubtlessly carrying some famous Vancouver luminary inside.

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

One of my last excursions was a bike ride out to the University of British Columbia from the downtown. My cousin works at the UBC hospital, so lucky for me, she said she’d bike with me to UBC. So, we set out in rush hour traffic that crisp, sunny morning, joining the throngs of other cyclists making their way to work or school. It was a great 35-40 minute ride, but wow, there was quite a section of hills to climb toward the end. Glad I dressed light and in synthetic fibers or I would’ve needed a shower! The campus was modern and minimalist with an eye to sustainability. Trees could be spotted everywhere and I was quite impressed by the flowers and shrubbery by the hospital’s urgent care entrance.

UBC campus

UBC campus

UBC Hospital

UBC Hospital

The ride back to the downtown was absolutely thrilling! I was on my own, so had to navigate my way through campus and down the hill through a couple of posh neighborhoods to pick up Marine Drive.  I was a little leery about riding in traffic without a helmet (my cousins did not have an extra helmet to loan me) on a road bike, but Marine Drive was a mostly flat, smooth, relatively quiet ride on a country-like road that ran parallel to the ocean. With trees on either side and snow-capped mountains visible across English Bay, I was practically euphoric in the experience! It got a little trickier, however, around Jericho Beach with the traffic picking up, so I moved over to the relative safety of the shoreline’s bike trails and continued weaving my way along the coastal path until Granville Island. Knowing time was short for catching my flight back home, I quickly dropped into Meinhardt one last time for a great take-away lunch before grabbing my suitcase, and hustling out to catch the city bus and then Sky Train to the airport. Until next time, Vancouver!..

Savoring a wee bit o’ Guinness at work…

I’ve always identified with Irish culture for some reason. I’m not sure why. Like many Canadians, I can reach back into my genealogy and extract an Irish root or two, but the reality is my Dutch and British lineage remain closer to the surface.

I think it’s the Irish traditional music that most stirs me. I’m not one to be coaxed onto the dance floor easily, but when I hear the sound of Irish music playing — usually in a pub — my otherwise rhythmically disinclined body is compelled to move with the beat. Like a self-possessed metronome, my foot cannot resist the siren call to keep time with the music.

My first exposure to Irish culture was during my university days as a very green undergrad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for both its talented pool of local musicians and density of bars and pubs packed into a relatively tight downtown core, an evening out at a Halifax pub (or pubs) was (and still is) THE thing to do starting on a Thursday night and continuing on into the weekend. While pubs and bars have come and gone over the years, some venerable ones remain like the Lower Deck on the Halifax waterfront — a must-do experience for the first-time Halifax visitor.

Despite my affinity for Irish culture, I  have yet to actually set foot on the Emerald Isle. The closest I’ve come was this past spring when I had an opportunity to go to Dublin with my sister, who had to be in Ireland for some international business meetings. Were the airlines tickets more affordable in the context of a week-long stay, I would’ve taken advantage of this chance to visit Europe for the first time. Alas, it was not to be. My sister did go, however, and did enjoy her brief, first-time trip to Europe. Unfortunately, she is not so identified with Irish culture as me and also has little interest in photography, so the images I have of Ireland remain those that I have collected and stored away in my imagination over the years through books, movies (e.g., Leap Year and a very handsome-scruffy Matthew Goode), photos, and magazines.

One of my friends at work, who married an ex-pat Irishman (whom, I imagine has a lovely accent), recently returned home from a five-week family trip in Ireland. I can’t wait to catch up with her, and hear how her trip was, what adventures she had, and if she ran into any Gerard Butler look-alikes (yes, I know he is actually Scottish, but he did play an Irishman quite convincingly in P.S. I Love You, a movie whose only redeeming quality was the presence of Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Allan Hawco à la Love & Savagery (very charming Irish-Canadian film collab).

In any event, I was on the phone when my friend popped by my cube to deliver some Irish bounty — a dark chocolate bar. I was intrigued: a real Irish chocolate bar! I don’t think of Ireland when I think of European chocolate. And Guinness?.. I do recall having once come across a recipe for a chocolate layer cake, in which Guinness was specified as an ingredient… Normally, I hate beer, but maybe all it needs is a little chocolate…

My morning half-pint

Since I had made it to mid-morning without a single chocolate pick-me-up after the requisite dose at breakfast (selected from my always well-stocked dark chocolate stash— and no, we’re not talking Cocoa Puffs or Nutella, or any of that other fake stuff masquerading as chocolate), I carefully unwrapped the bar. Within seconds, my cube started to smell like D’Arcy McGee’s or The Old Triangle! That’s all I needed: my manager thinking I had gone all James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway with my tortured technical writing assignments. Just how much Guinness was in this bar, I wondered — after quickly devouring two squares…

For a moment, I was transported back in time to that enchanting, rainy, cold, fall afternoon along Wellington Street in Ottawa when the remnants of Hurricane Juan were kicking up a blustery storm of wet, fall leaves. We were soaked, my tall, dark, handsome, eloquent Irishman and me, after an afternoon spent playing tourist at the Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. We had decided to head over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up. It was the first time I tasted Guinness. Michael had insisted I take a sip from his pint. Not wanting to disappoint, I raised the glass to my lips and took the most skeptical of micro-sized sips. I remember how it tasted as burnt as it looked. Michael just laughed and said it was an acquired taste. I told him I’d stick to my hot chocolate and warm, chocolate lava cake…

Hmmm… No amounts listed on the ingredient list. I decided to err on the side of caution and not imbibe — I mean, eat — anymore and risk having HR refer me to the Employee Assistance Program for a drinking problem. I put the bar to one side of my desk with a single piece of paper over it like an alcoholic trying to conceal his liquor in paper bag, hoping the scent of Guinness would be somehow magically stifled. It wasn’t.

I was sure my cubemates in the adjacent cube would soon catch a whiff of that unmistakable scent and get up to check who had brought in liquor to work. I should say, that if I actually worked in a non-geeky job, I would be the very last person people would consider as the bootlegger or closet-alcoholic. However, my job being the inherently geeky job it is, geekiness is all relative; the only uncertainty is just where along the geekiness spectrum I fall. I finally hit upon a decidedly non-creative plan, but a plan, nonetheless. I would stuff my bar into my filing cabinet where I also stored my purse and coat. Problem solved — I would keep the thing sealed and out of sight for the rest of the day.

Because of a series of protracted, severe thunderstorms that hit the city in the waning hours of the afternoon, I decided to wait out the inclement weather since I was without coat or umbrella (not that that would’ve been too wise to use in a thunderstorm), had come by bike, and also had to peddle through a densely treed park on my way home. Two hours later, I finally decide to take my chances and venture home as hunger has now trumped fear. I reach for my stored backpack and purse and note the pub-like ambience that hits me again as I open the cupboard to my locker — henceforth, pub door. I hastily stuff the chocolate booze bar into my purse and quickly and steathily make my way out of the office, grateful that only the last diehards of the geek squad remain…

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. 

Sláinte!

Montréal, je t’adore: Why I love the neighborhood of Outremont

If I ever move back to Montreal, and had to choose a neighborhood to live in, my first choice would be Outremont. Bustling Bernard Avenue is probably my favourite street in Outremont. It’s also where I learned to run through the très sympathique Running Room formerly located on the corner of de l’Épée. In fact, signing up with the Learn to Run program back in 2004 at the Outremont Running Room was probably the means by which I came to develop such a fondness for Outremont. Up to that point, I didn’t have any particular reason to visit this neighborhood. A nice little spin-off on my road to becoming a runner! 🙂

I used to live in Montreal – in the Town of Mount Royal, just next door to Outremont. TMR was and is a beautiful neighborhood. I spent nearly 10 mostly happy years there. (In fact, I still go back and visit when I can, especially to dine at my favourite little converted railway station-resto, Pizzaiolle. Awesome wood-fired, thin-crust pizza and a peculiarly-named, sinfully delicious dark chocolate écureuil — or ‘squirrel’ — dessert with a dollop of crème anglaise.)

[This picture shows the Piazzaiolle location in Outremont.]

Despite, however, the convenience of the Deux Montagnes train de banlieue running right through the centre of TMR, whisking you into Gare centrale downtown in under 10 minutes, TMR felt, at times, a little too suburban for my lifestyle. Maybe I would’ve felt differently had I been raising a family.

On the other hand, there’s something inherently magical, if not a little bohemian, to me about living in a downtown enclave, perhaps in a stone walk-up with one of those famous Montreal staircases, complete with an urban garden, a big, leafy park nearby, and lots of shops and restos.

I used to occasionally run down the heavily tree-enshrouded section of Avenue de l’Esplanade bounded by Avenue Mont-Royale and Avenue Duluth in the Plateau, facing Parc Jeanne Mance and Mount Royal Park and imagine myself living in one of those early 20th century — and completely unaffordable — tony, stone triplexes. I also have a fond recollection of spending a particularly sweltering hot summer evening dining al fresco on the rooftop of a friend’s triplex in the very urban Plateau Mont-Royal district, where we enjoyed stunning views of the city and Mount Royal at sunset, before our gang of girls headed out to see Cirque du Soleil perform at the closing night of the Montreal Jazz Festival outside Place des Arts.

Outremont — only slightly further from the downtown core than the Plateau and a favourite, old running haunt of mine — has always appealed to me for its proximity to Mount Royal Park, its big, leafy trees overhanging its streets, its collection of long, steep hills (Avenue Pagnuelo was where I used to do some hard-core hill-training, the gradient of which compares well with some streets in notoriously hilly San Francisco or St. John’s, Newfoundland), and the stunning, stone mansions in upper Outremont. I also love the overall vibrancy of this eclectic neighborhood with its interesting mix of cultural diversity, where secular francophones and allophones live alongside Hasidic Jewish families.

What I remember most about Outremont was how the whole community seemed to come out on warm, summer nights and weekends. Sidewalk terrasses on Bernard and Laurier Avenue were always packed to capacity with adults, kids, and their dogs enjoying a café or leisure déjeuner, soaking in the sun and ambience of the scene, content to wile away a lazy afternoon or relaxing evening. I can still see all those well-dressed diners sitting out on the terrasse in the early evening hours enjoying their oyster delicacies at La Moulerie restaurant across the street from the venerable Théatre Outremont before going to see a play or film.

My favourite glacier artisinale place in all of Montreal — Bilboquet — is also located in the heart of Outremont on Bernard Avenue. I first discovered this whimsical place when I was learning to run and it was love at first sight — and conveniently located from the Running Room! 🙂 We would always go for an ice cream or sorbet reward after our Wednesday night group runs, thinking we’d earned it after ‘pounding out’ a 2 to 5k run!? (Yes, we were definitely running-newbies back in those days!) Of course, I kept with my running and those miles (and my fitness) increased exponenentially, easily providing a justification (if one was ever needed) for a Bilboquet ice cream after inducing a significant caloric deficit from the regular, early Sunday morning long run on the Mountain.

If you ever get a chance to taste Bilboquet’s ice cream or sorbet, I highly recommend the dark & delicious Choco Chic + Tire d’Érable (one scoop of each in a cup; and yes, I realize I am asking you to combine dark chocolate with maple, but trust me – it works!) for ice cream or if you’re looking for something a little lighter and fruity, the Poire sorbet. (If you’re in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, these are very rich and delicious, too. Almost cake-like, in fact.)

For an extra special Bilboquet experience, try and visit during a hot summer night. This is how you will really experience life in Outremont. Everyone — and I mean ‘everyone’ — seems to come out and queue for ice cream to cool off, often late into the evening. The line can sometimes extend out the door and stretch down the street, but it moves pretty efficiently; the ice cream scoopers are pros. 🙂 In this long queue, it’s likely you’ll see tons of parents with their very young children, many of whom are adorably dressed in their pyjamas; teenagers or 20-somethings out on dates; senior citizens; groups of friends; and of course, cute dogs on leashes. It’s a fascinating scene, and a classic Montreal memory for me.

If you like to cook at home, Les Cinq Saisons is a great little grocery store, also on Bernard. It is a very French épicerie and has the most wonderful produce and the best selection of imported chocolate (to support my addiction! :-)). As their name would imply, they always had the exterior of their storefront nicely decorated for the seasons; I especially enjoyed seeing their Hallowe’en displays with all the fresh pumpkins. Just down the street from Les Cinq Saisons is a Première Moisson boulangerie, where I would often go on weekends to buy a baguette, miche, or pâtisserie such as a piquant truffé (a very rich, mini dark chocolate mousse cake that looks a bit like a dragon fruit), or simply get lunch.

Aside from the wonderful running routes, beautiful scenery, and great food, there are many other reasons to visit Outremont. However, I will leave this for you to discover the next time you visit Montreal and want to check out this hidden gem of a neighborhood! À la prochaine! 🙂

Montréal, je t’adore: Jean Talon Market

Bonjour! It’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning, so what does this usually signal? Why grocery shopping or going to the farmers market, of course! 🙂

When I was living in Montreal, one of the most bustling spots to be on weekend mornings was at le marché. There are several good ones in the city, but the one I used to frequent the most was the famous Jean Talon Market. Even though it was crazy on Saturday mornings, it was a real spectacle, like going to the fair or attending the circus. You’d hear the vendors calling out to you in French ‘to step right up’ and try their deliciously fresh produce. (Needless to say, no one needed much coaxing!)

One such produce kiosk I remember very well was the Tomato Man’s. Everyone knew he had the best tomatoes, and he was always first on the list of stops whenever I would accompany my aunt on those busy Saturday mornings. You couldn’t just buy the tomatoes either. Oh non, that would be très impoli indeed! You had to stop and sample the perfectly cut up slices he would display so beautifully on a plate, and of course, compliment him on how good they tasted (which they always did).

Although I am not a vegetarian per se, I do tend to eat very little meat. I like it (though mostly avoid red meat), but I find I can’t eat it as often as I once did; it’s just too filling. I do enjoy fish, however, (halibut is probably my favourite, but it’s expensive so remains a treat) at least weekly and used to buy my fish at a great Lebanese fish market in Montreal (Sirène de la mer); thankfully, I have found another great fishmonger in Ottawa (The Pelican).

But getting back to the vegetable scene at the Jean Talon Market, my favourite items to pick up were haricots (green or yellow), peppers (all variety of colors), corn on the cob (the peaches & cream variety), baby carrots, green asparagus, beets (golden beets are especially delicious!), and fresh (unshelled) peas. A word about peas: you can’t beat the taste of fresh peas. As a bonus, if you like popping bubble wrap, you will love popping peas out of their pods. It’s so much fun! I can still remember those summers spent at our seaside family cottage as a little girl and how much fun I used to have helping my mom and nanna shell all those peas for a big, extended family supper that evening. To this day, I gladly volunteer to shuck/shell peas. 🙂

When it came to fruit at the Jean Talon Market, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. (You’d think I was feeding a family of twelve — not an uncommon size, however, for a francophone family ‘back in the day’ in Quebec.) I particularly loved picking up melons (cantaloupe or watermelon), fresh quarts of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, Bing cherries, peaches, wild blueberries (if you’ve never tried the wild variety, you are in for a treat: they may be small, but they are mighty in flavor; unmatched by other varieties, in my opinion), pineapple, Ataulfo (yellow) mangos, and seedless grapes (red or green).

When I was living in Montreal, my uncle got me into fresh pineapple (and showed me how to spot the juiciest, sweetest ones). He also introduced me to those sweet yellow mangos (once you go yellow, you’ll never go back). My brother-in-law agrees. He spent part of his childhood in Jamaica, where mangoes are plentiful. He fondly remembers picking mangoes right off the trees as a treat upon his return home from school.

After spending all my money at this carnival-esque visual feast — along with sampling a few amuse-bouches here and there — I would inevitably return home, arms loaded with bags full of bounty, having been completely seduced by the freshness and colors of all the fruits and vegetables — not to mention, herbs (Mmmm… Smell that fresh basil!..), dark chocolate, gelato, crème glacée artisanale (Havre aux Glaces is a must-stop), and those wonderful miches campagnards from my favourite Montreal boulangerie (Première Moisson). It’s a good thing I was (and still am) a runner! Now if you’ll excuse me, all this food talk has made me hungry. Bon appétit! 🙂

Dating Don’ts: Professing one’s love via mail-order brownies

I am terrible at dating. Seriously.

Let me be perfectly honest: I am not the most prolific dater, but the dates I have been on have been mostly disastrous and/or really awkward. Especially the on-line meet-ups and blind-date fix-ups. For whatever reason, they never seem to work out for me.

One of my more memorable, one-hit-wonder dating episodes included being fixed up by a well-meaning friend with her ex-boyfriend (I know, that should’ve been an automatic red flag – let’s call it mistake # 1), who was not fluent in English and who was a lab scientist.

Mistake # 2 was carrying on a prolonged e-courtship before even meeting in-person. This is how you get into trouble creating expectations or an idealized version of this person based on all your hopes and dreams for your Mr./Ms. Right, which are probably innumerated on that list (either written or in your head) that you deny you have about all the attributes your perfect partner must possess or radiate… (I think, more than anything, I was hesitant about going on a date with this guy and e-mail was a stalling tactic and not part of some larger stated strategy of honing my French writing skills and perhaps impressing this guy in the process.) Eventually, I bit the bullet and we ended up going out on a date to a great little neighborhood seafood bistro (my recommendation) in a hip, very French part of town. I had been to this place a few times before and knew the service was impeccable, the ambience charming, and the owner-chef sympathique. The place was packed that night and had a great vibe. The food, as usual, was fantastic. Ahhh, but the chemistry between my date and me was anything but sizzling. (I remember feeling so uncomfortable by the permanent blush on his face as he attempted to speak to me in broken English.) I had bought a new outfit for the occasion – a turquoise INC sweater with matching floral appliqué, skinny, dark boot cut jeans and high-heeled black ankle boots; by comparison, he had worn something perfectly suited to a casting call for the Big Bang Theory. When the meal ended and the bill arrived, the waiter placed it at my date’s side of the table. My date looked over at me and innocently observed how interesting it was that the waiter would be so quick to assume that the man would be paying the bill. (Mistake # 3 – going out with someone with poor social graces and possibly a cheap streak.) I was not impressed, as he had been the one who had asked me out. (Ergo, he should pay, non?) Rather than get into a heated debate about gender roles and expectations, however, I exercised diplomacy (an unfortunately infrequent inclination on my part) and suggested we split the bill. We did, and then we made our way out to our respective vehicles. The whole time I was praying he wouldn’t try to kiss me, and turned up my reserve a few notches as a means of discouraging any such potential encounter. (I also had extra height in my favour, as I was already taller than him, and with the help of the heels, rather out of easy reach.) After lingering for a few awkward moments, we… shook hands (I know, brutal – mea culpa, it was a very Temperance Bones move on my part, but it served the purpose) and then (mercifully) departed without any verbal (or written ;-)) commitment to see each other again. I was relieved… A few days later, I was picking up my mail and noticed a tattered Laura Secord box inside my mailbox. Curious, since I am a hard-core chocolate addict (though admittedly more than a bit on the gourmet side – ok, “chocolate snob” – so Laura wouldn’t have exactly cut it for me), I took the box upstairs and opened it. It contained a half-dozen homemade chocolate brownies!? And, it was from the scientist! I was horrified.

[Above: This is a Sharpie marker cartoon sketch I did and then colorized in Photoshop.]

How did he get my address?? (And, more importantly, what might he have put in those brownies?? Safe to assume not money like we used to get inside the cake at kids’ birthday parties back in the 80s.) I didn’t know what to do with this unusual gift, so I took it into work and showed it to a couple of my good girlfriends. I didn’t tell them what was in it, but as soon as they opened the box and saw the brownies, all three of us suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter. (Of course, the boss walked in on us and once he heard the story, began defending the guy’s brownie outreach as unique and endearing!? Perhaps my boss, too, had engaged in some mail-order pastry hijinks back in the day?..) I know, it’s terrible to make fun of this innocent gesture (assuming the brownies were not in fact laced with chemicals — we never did sample them), especially since I have made my own fair share of faux pas (but those are other stories for subsequent posts…). Likely, this guy was well-intentioned, but there was something so comical about receiving homemade brownies in a beat-up, recycled box of chocolates, instead of actually receiving the original chocolates (in a nice box). It was like saying, these chocolates are too good to give away, so I’m just going to scarf them down myself (or perhaps apportion them for other potential, more promising dates) and save the box, whip up a batch of Duncan Hines brownies and impress the pants off this girl with my baking skills, creativity (and fiscal responsibility)… As my wiser-than-her-years little sis had pointed out at the time, however, I likely would’ve cut this guy some slack had we connected at all on our date. It’s true. If you think about follow-ups after dates, if you’re really interested, it’s not so much what they do to follow up but that they follow up — and promptly. As an example of my own potential ‘mail-order brownie mishap’, I can remember impulsively picking up a questionable gift for a guy I was crazy about that probably would’ve freaked a lot of other guys out or left them a little bewildered. It was a kids’ book and though this guy had a couple of young kids from a previous marriage, I had primarily intended it for him to lift his spirits (he had been having a bad week) and give him a good laugh. The book? Walter the Farting Dog. Not exactly sexy or high-brow literature for this erudite guy. Oh well, thank goodness, the object of my affection thought it was hilarious and really appreciated my gesture of caring. (Or, he did a very convincing acting job.) I was lucky, but I also knew my ‘target audience’ better, too… [As a postcript, I’m happy to report that I heard that — despite this inauspicious date with me — Mr. Scientist did go on to meet a lovely girl and have a family.]

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