Trip planning gives me purpose

Since wrapping up a course in the beginning of March, I have been blissfully free of studying and serious thoughts pertaining to higher learning and felt oddly … guilty. That is banished with us finally booked our May trip … to California!

After a lot of debating (internal and external), we are forgoing going to the East Coast (Halifax and New York City) due to the heady cost and to Hawaii. The latter was forgone because there *just might* be a destination wedding there later this year or next year. NPY and I haven’t been to California together – I was in SF last year and LA in 2005 while he was in SF in 2006 – so it’s a short week-long trip nearby that is also fabulous.

Of course, I made it a trip planning challenge and not only are we flying into San Francisco and spending the weekend there before driving down to LA, I also want to visit Napa Valley. Just a day trip, to compare and contrast with our old standby and neighbour, the Okanagan Valley, we’ll visit later this year.

When I returned from San Francisco last year, I was so disappointed with what I missed that I couldn’t full appreciate the opportunity. I missed a couple of landmarks and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. It’s not like we are going marathon weekend (that has passed) but it’s all the better because of going with NPY – that’s so sappy, I know – so it’s like a do-over.

Sampling iDance with a Groupon

I saw the Groupon offer for ten dance classes at iDance and thought, “Perfect! Dance classes just three blocks away–it’s the closest thing to my place other than Tantra (two blocks) that is leaving the area!” But when I looked up the address, I learned iDance had moved from (but left their sign at) their 2nd Avenue and Alberta location to east of Main on 5th Avenue, nine whole blocks away.

(Sorry, Vancouver, but I divide in my mind the city into “Direction I want to go in” and “Direction I don’t.” Heading east is always less desirable and a few blocks in between my place and iDance are Sketch City in the evening.)

Given iDance qualifies as being in the neighbourhood and after I viewed the class schedule, I still wanted to try it. But I also decided to get my 10 classes over with with minimal visits, i.e., two or three classes in a row. If it’s anything like Tantra Fitness, an hour-long class is not so strenuous you couldn’t do a second one.

On the iDance website, their Best of Vancouver Runner-Up badges are prominently displayed. They are the runner-up in 2011 to 2013 (inclusive) to the most centrally located and perennial winner: Harbour Dance Centre. There is also a little table – I love tables – with the following guide.

“Best for Newbies: Dancer’s Body Bootcamp
Best for Burning Calories: Zumba
Best for Stress Release: Hip Hop
Best for Expressing Yourself: Lyrical”

Good thing I plan on trying all of these styles! (btw, when is a “Bootcamp” class best for newbie?)

********

On my first visit, I learned iDance would be moving! Again! The new location would still be nine blocks away from my place, but the distance is less. I thought that meant I had gone to the old studio in vain but I was simply really early for their first class of the day. I told the receptionist I would take three classes and she processed my Groupon 10-class pass and only took one class off. Like Tantra Fitness, iDance is set up for online registration for classes on zenplanner.com.

 

iDance Ballet
To start off my experiment at the runner-up dance studio, I took the ballet class. There is only one level of all the classes, no real explanation of the exercises was given and the demo was brief and not particularly deliberate to teach technique to even an astute observer. However, perhaps being new attracted the teacher’s attention and she attempted to correct my technique. It goes to show that even if you’re a veteran at beginner ballet classes, a new teacher will introduce challenges. Further, I found the floor was too slippery and I struggled to not let my feet slip away on me.

Three moveable barres that each accommodated four people were set up in the center and it was a full class. The lower barre was too short for me while the upper barre was too tall and the whole barre shifted under our weight as we did some exercises. All the exercises were fast as it was a one-hour class – half an hour at the barre, half an hour of center work.

I wore my standard ballet gear of pink tights with black shorts and black t-shirt and ballet shoes. For an informal school, I was pleased so observe most of the students also wore ballet shoes.

iDance Contemporary / Lyrical / Modern
You can’t help but notice when you check in on Foursquare (to the 5th Avenue location), the rave reviews for Rae’s contemporary and hip hop classes and a contemporary class followed my first class, the ballet one.

We did a 20-minute warm-up where you get nice and intimate with the cold hardwood floor. How flexible did we need to be?! Then she introduced the song she choreographed to and it’s one of my favourites – Gary Jules’ Mad World. A slow song is always better than fast song although I’m sure I looked more wooden than I felt. The sequence we did had a large element of pantomiming style and we did some “breakdancing” in the very first bar. I’m just not so very keen to be so close to the floor.

Dancer’s Body Bootcamp
iDance’s “gateway” class is their Dancer’s Body Bootcamp as it requires no dance experience and is offered at least once a day. It contains cardio, movement across the floor, partner work, abs, and stretching.

It was at Tantra where I was first ever exposed to partner work in a dance/fitness class and I didn’t like it. I like how we were holding hands, using each other to balance but also challenge either with our own unsteadiness while we did a series of degage and attitudes.

iDance Jazz
My biggest dilemma of the day was deciding between wearing socks or no socks! I was back and forth on that throughout the class. I don’t understand how professionals slide their bare feet across the floor! It was also definitely a leggings kind of class else you suffer floor burn (or freeze your legs) in shorts.

That evening, a substitute came in for Rae. We did a half hour of stretching and warm-up and she snuck in some formal jazz moves. Our combo to a song I did not know incorporated jazz arms, kicks and other details swimming in my head. I didn’t love the routine.

iDance Lyrical Jazz
The Lyrical Jazz class followed immediately the Jazz class and it was also suppose to be Rae’s class and a different substitute (Samantha) stepped in. We got even more intimate with the floor, sheesh.

To the song “Rolling Waves” by The Naked and Famous, we learned a routine much more like Contemporary Dance I know of from watching So You Think You Can Dance – again, slower songs are better. The routine included such classic contemporary moves like clutching your front torso, head and upper body crumpling, the backwards running/flying jump on the spot, contemporary-style spinning spread eagle jump, and nice incorporation of a rond de jambe.

When it comes to learning these routines, my first order of business is to get the timing, to be in the right place, on the correct footing. If you don’t have that, you’re hooped for the next portion. Then I’ll try to get the exact movements, but all too soon, the class ends. Samantha video taped our final run through and I’ve been checking out the iDance Studios channel on YouTube. This class renewed my appreciation for how contemporary dancers can throw themselves around and make it look effortless

iDance Hip Hop
Another Rae class and it was Hip Hop (ugh) instead of Lyrical Hip Hop. In any case, I wasn’t a huge fan of the music, some old song called “Break the Window” or something. It was too fast for me and I don’t like being “edgy” – the routine was largely isolations and that sounds fine and well but I couldn’t keep up with the beat or lyrics.

To this class, I wore and felt approaching normal a t-shirt, tights and my New Balance Minimum shoes. Warm-up was fine and well until we had to get down (again!!) to the ground with a crazy series of blanks and crunches!

Hip Hop was my first class in the new studio. The location has better visibility than their most recent one but I don’t see it as place where they can stay long-term. They moved into a space previously occupied by a school of aesthetics and without knowing that bit, I could still tell from the tacky 19080s reception area the former tenants were Chinese. But it’s the studios that count, right? A huge, positive difference is the windows letting light into the larger studio but you’re eye-level with the second floor of surrounding ugly buildings and the window frames are old and look mouldy. Their previous studio had a converted warehouse feel with infinitely high ceilings and now it felt like 7-foot ceilings. Several sinks line the back corner, useful for the last business but ugly when reflected in the wall of mirrors. I felt like I was in a crappy studio apartment with only the advantage of new hardwood floors with the laundry machines, a bathroom and kitchenette inside the studio. No one wants to say it but the space is disappointing, so what I heard a patron soothing say was, “It’s not about the studio, but the instructors.” That’s one way to put it.

iDance Floor Barre / Pilates Mat
There was a lot of back work and less discernible barre work on the floor. It was a slow-going and boring class.

iDance Bollywood
After the chill and boring Floor Barre class, I thought I would have ample energy to do Bollywood. But the warm-up was crazy! It was at 11 on a scale out of 10 for intensity immediately! There was a lot of bouncing – a bra with support is required! I wore tights and my New Balance minimal shoes.

We focused on just four steps and repeated them in sequence then strung them together for “choreography”. Karima Essa, the instructor, is super high energy and took the time to correct people and framed the moves in terms of resistance and isolation exercises. It challenged me and inspired me to get better.

Karima also regaled us with stories of performing in the Canada Day and Pride parades. Hey, that would fulfill my dream of dancing in a parade! But it’s brutal. It’s constant physical work and under potentially sweltering conditions.

I was back six weeks later and mentally prepared for the ass-kicking first half an hour. In the meantime, Karima was away in Toronto vying for the top prize in Canadian reality dance/acting competition Bollywood Star. She was a finalist! That is stupendous. But she was eliminated during the second episode – which is not stupendous. :( I feel sad about that lost opportunity for her but she is definitely someone who will create more in her future!

The second class wasn’t quite so bad since I was prepared with a bottle of water and mentally prepared. I was still challenged and since the front desk associate had recommended I extend my membership, I seriously consider that the Bollywood class was worth sticking with iDance for. It is loud and high-energy and doesn’t required “mood lighting” and the current iDance studio’s state isn’t an issue for me as it was for a real dance class.

iDance Yoga Dance
On a Monday I did not have to go to work, I took the opportunity to attend a 10 a.m. class. I also wanted to go to a 5:00 p.m. class at Harbour Dance that I would otherwise never get to but iDance was in my neighbourhood and Harbour isn’t and one class happened and the other did not.

I had some fancy idea about what Yoga Dance could be but this was just a flow yoga classes. I wasn’t unhappy to get a good stretch in.

iDance Zumba

My original plan was to do a triple-header on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. of Bollywood, Zumba and Pussycat Dolls. But that’s awkward scheduled across lunch hour and when would I have lunch? 2:30?! I’ve had enough of wannabe-sexy classes and nixed the Pussycat Dolls class with no intention to try it.

Zumba is a different story, especially since it was (as above) “Best for Burning Calories.” The Sunday class is co-instructed by Hercy and Rolson which is a cool duo. Hercy was fast paced and dove into each new song’s choreography without a word of explanation but with ample repetition to catch up to the moves, roughly speaking, by the second iteration. Rolson brought the dancehall/hip hop moves and we could catch our breath during his segment. The class was split kind of 35 minutes Hercy and 25 minutes Rolson. We did Gangnam style! It was a fun and satisfying class which and I can see why it is a full class. I felt super limber after the class which is exactly what I need to shake up my running-and-ballet routine.

********

After trying ten different classes at iDance, I have gone from decidedly not renewing my membership to agreeing to a 10-class card which I will use for Bollywood-Zumba doubleheaders in Sundays. The 10-class card expires after just three months so I have to take care of (i.e., attend) some other dance studios I have class cards for before purchasing another iDance pass!

A weekend away from K’emk’emelay* (Vancouver)

Winnie, Andrea, Juliana and… Yoda.

Those aren’t our real names. They are the Starbucks names of our little merry band that went to Whistler last weekend. Our firm hosted a weekend in Whistler to celebrate the end of another busy season. The total head count was 90 people, nearly a quarter of the Vancouver office and representing a large portion of the audit practice. The four of us provide support to the accountants – Andrea and me in administration and the others in HR. We’re invited to the party but a little different. A little older.

Last year, I was not supporting anyone in the audit practice but I have been for the past eight months. This year, I was “eligible” to go and I practically jumped on the chance because the timing was right. I’ve never stayed overnight in Whistler for a “ski trip”. This is my final year of “partying” as I know it. I was done a final exam a week earlier. NPY could use the wyn-free weekend to study for his upcoming exam (or not). I was soon ending two weeks of vacation coverage for a colleague which was nothing short of stressful. And I needed a getaway at that particular point.

We set out on Friday after work and admired the dark, sparkling waters of the Howe Sound. (It will look so much better and blue in summer!) The usual pitstop was made in Squamish where I’ve heard there is a very good sushi restaurant but since I did not confirm which one it was ahead of time, we went to Wendy’s which was low-key and forgoing the pizza and booze party in a hotel room that evening. It was the right decision afterall although I wasn’t sure at the time.

In Whistler, I’d love to stay in the Westin foremost, then the Fairmont. The Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa we were booked in was nothing to complain about, as it turned out. The room had two double beds but two sinks and a long hall creating more space. Given my uneasiness with being locked up in a bathroom to brush my teeth, I was using the exterior sink almost exclusively.

We were greeted with a Whistler weekend “survival kit” and we were so touched that we gave it a good paparazzi treatment. It wasn’t just bulk treats tossed into the bag. Someone had taken the time to write a personalized note in the cardholders of our Starbucks cards!

 

We chilled the bottle of wine and unwinded from the day and the drive before getting ready to go out. It’s Whistler so no one is dressed to the nines. I wore what I wore to work (which was selected with the evening in mind) and shed my cardigan.

The music was good at Buffalo Bills. It was mostly mainstream stuff that I’m happy to dance to (not so happy to hear ad nauseum on the radio in the car). And I recalled that Buffalo Bills was the place our hotel recommended last time and we went to for the Whistler stagette I went to last year… what a difference going out in Whistler in the winter makes!

I would learn on the weekend how much my experiences going out shape my expectations. (And you know what they say about expectations….)  Friday night was quite brilliant and I attribute it to the crowd, the mix of people there.

We made a lot of new “friends” for the evening. I met Claude at the bar who gave me a free pass to Universal Studios where he works. Then I met Brian on the dance floor and learned he’s a CxO at a bank close to where I work. A cute Polish guy with a Polish name I can’t remember invited me to have a drink at the bar. He’s in Whistler from New York. There was but one person who conferred unwanted attention – a guy from DC. He was in stark contrast to the other guys and it was painfully obvious to us girls.

One of the girls wasn’t pleased with the male attention. “Can’t they see I’m wearing a ring?!” Actually, I don’t think you can see that in the dark. And I’m a little more non-plussed about it. No one is making surprise and prolonged contact with you from behind. If I could profile the guys: mid-twenties and older, often in the finance industry (and then you throw into the mix my financial services firm!), at Whistler and/or the club alone, very enthusiastic about skiing/snowboarding, and not looking for anything.

Four new friends joined us leaving the bar after it closed and we hung out waiting to order and then waiting for a whole pizza to be made. I was feeling virtuous from working off the Wendy’s dinner with dancing and could abstain. We enjoyed the pizza and company in a comfortable circle of armchairs at the hotel before sending them off to their own hotels.

It’s impressive we got out of bed after just five hours of sleep. I didn’t want to miss my chance to zipline with two other first-timers and we were beyond the free cancellation time! Juliana wavered between coming with us or not because she’s afraid of heights and ultimately it was just the three of us. She had watched some videos and when she asked if we had, I started to worry that I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into! But also knowing that children and one colleague we assume to be conservative had done it, it can’t be too bad!

Our tour group consisted of nine people and with two guides and a driver, we ascended Whistler to the A-frame where we got into our gear. On the way, we drove by the Whistler Sliding Centre, a venue for the 2010 Olympic games. It was covered but you could try to peer inside as you drive by. We turned onto an old access road and it was snow covered and the van had poor suspension and it was bumpy and swaying like an old wooden rollercoaster. That’s what happens when Andrea enthusiastically calls dibs on the backseat and we follow her!

We opted to do the Bear Tour of the two tours offered by Ziptrek Ecotours that last 2.5-3.0 hours. The other option was Eagle which has a “monster 20-storey drop” and costs $20 more. We had nothing to compare ziplining to so chose Bear. Both tours have five ziplines.

The first line was short and low. It was to give you a taste and feel and learn where to put your hands. After initial wariness about stepping off into nothing and relying on the harness and zipline to catch you and uncertainty about the speed, I was not overly impressed with the first line! But it got progressively higher and longer and I was impressed again. On the really long lines, we were advised to tuck into a compact cannonball shape or risk being stuck out in the middle. While it would extend the time the tour takes, it might be miserable, uncomfortable and cold hanging out in the open waiting to be retrieved.

When we were at the second line, we looked overhead to see a line that extended from behind the trees to our left, across the widest part of the valley and  not ending until beyond the trees to our right. It was so much higher and so much longer than any of the lines on our tour and I wanted to ride on just that one!

The fifth and final line was short and by then we were comfortable enough to try something different. The guides dubbed it the “freestyle line” and we were instructed how to flip ourselves upside down (hold harness at your abdomen, kick up feet, throw head back, clamp harness with feet to stay inverted, spread your arms… enjoy!) and flip up again (just drop your legs towards the ground). The three of us attempted going upside down. Andrea jumped up to zipline first. I must say that I was concentrating on the various steps such that I wasn’t even inverted very long and didn’t take in the view! Yoda didn’t kick up her feet enough and her back stayed parallel to the ground while she waved her arms and legs – the guides named that the “Inverted Beetle” maneuver!

It turns out that ziplining might be right up my alley with my interest in floating/flying aerial activities evidenced by trying out aerial yoga and (I’ll get back to it/classes) silks. The zipline is smooth and with the freedom on the harness, I wanted to pose! To artistically extend my arms!

 

I would go ziplining again. It wasn’t the poorest value. (Unlike, say, bungee jumping.) Two separate people said zipling in Costa Rica is insane. So I would do it again in a different (and awesome) locale. Also, from a weekend of hearing Andrea and Yoda talk about skydiving (the former did it in Hawaii last fall), it’s back on my radar. Bungee jumping never was but it makes absolute sense with my predilection for flying I would want to jump out of an airplane!

Since the pub was on the way back to the hotel and we were back in the Village at 3 p.m., we checked out the firm’s event starting at 3 at Longhorn Saloon that boasts of having the best Après Party in the Village. The firm reserved the elevated section where the pool table is located. It was the first time we saw our colleagues and felt like a work trip/retreat! It was funny how we didn’t have a day of skiing but something about being in the cold really boosted my appetite. So many nachos and so much poutine. At least, then, I refrained from the yam fries! And dinner was scheduled for just four hours later.

Dinner was an elegant affair. We closed down the hotel restaurant, Cinnamon Bear Bar & Grille, for the dinner. The menu was a three-course meal with two choices for each of appetizer and main and no choices for dessert. I cursed a little at the choice. Junk food at the pub was incentive to pick the lighter choices but I could justify my choices like the follows: beet and goat cheese salad is lighter but who really prefers that to a smoked black cod chowder with a salmon melt; and I do like to order salmon but fennel in the side and citrus-based sauce was not to my liking so I ordered the “meat and potatoes” short rib entrée. The dessert was a chocolate pistachio semifreddo. I’ve broken my Lent resolution to give up chocolate two times so far and with no choice for dessert….

It was a lovely dinner with colleagues that stretched out for three hours. There are so many people at the firm that I recognize but never talked to. It was fun to ascribe a personality to those people!

On Saturday, more of our group had arrived in Whistler and more of us were out at the club. It was arranged for us to go to Garfinkel’s, where I went seven years ago when I visited in the summer with NPY and my sister. Once again, the music was mostly mainstream but mixed by an EDM-oriented DJ. We could easily find people from the firm and danced with different groups in turn. I didn’t like the crowd other than that very much. It felt younger and more party-oriented. Definitely not as friendly and no new friends were made. I was reminded how there is no such thing as two really good nights in a row and we left half an hour before closing.

The next morning, I woke up at 8:30 because we hadn’t slept late. I luxuriated in the hotel bed for a long interval and only went to the gym at the latest time possible. Yay – I got in a 45-minute run. Boo – I didn’t leave enough time to go for a dip in the outdoor hot tub. The girls woke up and didn’t see me in bed and thought I was hogging the bathroom the entire time!!

We checked out and then head towards a restaurant on the other end of the village specializing in crepes and which had great reviews. But the prices were stupid, like at least $18 for any kind of savory crepe. So we walked back through the Village and ended up at La Brasserie des Artistes because they served breakfast, back close to the hotel.

After starting off the weekend with junk food on Friday, there was chatter about eating lighter, choosing lighter options. Andrea ordered “Clean Living”, consisting of yogurt and granola. Juliana and Yoda each ordered “The Lighter Side”, half a traditional breakfast and had no meat. I ordered the “Wanderlust Breakfast” which had the two eggs but all of the sides were fruits and vegetables. Light breakfast accomplished!

After lunch, I could have gone for Cows for ice cream but we were already past it and we went to the Starbucks on the Village Stroll like we did the day before – our Starbucks. On Sunday, we got a sofa that seated three and sat across from Andrea. It was a better idea than getting and slurping down ice cream outdoors. In a coffee shop, it was chill and we debriefed a little. Notably, everyone was so positive about the weekend. I also noticed after the fact how it says something – we are colleagues with a lot of people we know in common but we didn’t gossip and backstab at all. Then it was time to drive back.

Driving away, we could see the slopes and runs of Whistler and Blackcomb in all their glory and I felt like kicking myself for not going skiing! We came all of that way to not ski! At the same time, I wanted to go ziplining with newbies once the opportunity presented itself. If I go again next year, damn straight I’m going skiing!

As we were nearing Vancouver, it was a nice feeling to go back. I really felt kind of blessed to return to a scenic city and it has such easy access to wondferul Whistler. How Vancouverite is that?!

* With all of the proper accents: K’emk’emláý which is the Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh) name for Vancouver

I didn’t think it could happen but now it has: eating watery vegetbles

I think the food I hate eating most of all, that is entirely too common, is … watery vegetables. The following vegetables form a class in my mind that taste like mildly flavoured water and thus vile: celery, cucumber, peppers, bean sprouts and water chesnuts. Most of these vegetables are crunchy but they are certainly not satisfying like a crunchy potato chips. I have historically only been able to eat them when they been cooked to tenderness mush.

I have had a pretty good fruit habit. At the grocer’s on the weekend, I pick up five pieces of a few types of fruit – usually handheld ones like apples, oranges, pears, bananas and tomatoes and finger fruits like grapes, berries, baby carrots, cherries and tomatoes – and finish the haul by the end of the workweek. Because the fruit diversity is not so large (typically confined to apples, oranges and bananas on sale), I knew I need to diversify to vegetables.

Two of my colleagues at work are really inspiring. Andrea “meal preps” once or twice a week and she looks so disciplined with her baked lightly seasoned chicken breast in a small Ziplock bag and her raw vegetables in another. The results of her discipline are enviable. Lori seems to bring a cornucopia of vegetables to work and prepares her raw vegetables with some flair every day in the lunchroom. If Lori can do it, so can I!

I tend towards the do-it-once eat-all-week meal prep route and gave up hot lunches. I think the nutritional value of the vegetables is higher than a mixed green salad and the latter requires two liters of space in my satchel. I had several bottles of salad dressing lurking in the back of my fridge and as you can see from the image above, I started with dousing my vegetables!

Then I felt it was just messy to eat vegetables with all the dressing and I lightened up (below) or else I’ll be visiting the salad dressing aisle all too frequently.

Sometimes, I will feel like I have overdone it by lunch hour. Maybe I had a pastry for breakfast or some other incident that makes me want to eat clean (without dressing). And if I’m hungry enough, naked, flavourless vegetables will do. It took just three weeks to complete the transition from starting to prep vegetables like below and eating them naked as you see them below.

NPY has not joined me on this endeavour. He still gets hot lunches from leftovers from earlier in the week because he couldn’t fathom cold, meat- and carb-free lunches nor would he be full. Which is fine because then each hot dinner lasts all the longer when I’m not taking it for lunch!

The reminiscing meme: 2014

When I posted yesterday, my This Day plug-in reminded me of how five years ago yesterday, I published my second “reminiscing meme”. These memes look nothing like what a meme is known to be today. How much things change! And how much did I change? …

How much have you changed in 8 years?

** 8 YEARS AGO (March 2006)​ *​*

1 How old were you?
28

2 Who were you datin​g?
No one – I was in the midst of a dating experiment and blogging about it, including (Asian) speed dating, a singles event at The Commodore and online dating.

3 Where​ did you work?
I was a couple months into research with my PhD thesis lab at the BC Cancer Research Centre.

4 Where​ did you live?
In a cozy 429 sqft studio apartment in Cambie Village.

5 Where​ did you hang out?
At the lab. At home. I started taking ballroom dance lessons with friends through the UBC Dance Club.

6 Did you wear conta​cts and/​or glass​es?
No.

7 Who was your best frien​d?
Vinnie and Mona – seven years and going and spread all over North America at this point, still, I think. We had all left Halifax.

8 How many tatto​os did you have?
None.

9 How many pierc​ings did you have?
Probably had my ears pierced by then.

10 What kind of car did you drive​?
My world shrunk to a four-block radius from my lab and apartment. Walked and had a 3-zone UPass.

11 Had you been to a real party​?
Real != good, I learned. I had finally been to a “real” party, if you know what I mean. It happened recently and I was so mortified about how I perceived I acted I couldn’t face the other partygoers again.

12 Had you had your heart​ broke​n?
Oh, yes. 2005 was a very bad year of being alone and dumped. Basically moped for a year over a relationship that lasted just six months.

13 Were you Singl​e/​Taken​/​Marri​ed/​Divor​ced?
Single.

14 Any Kids?
No. Who needs them?

** 5 YEARS​ AGO (March 2009)​ *​*

1 How old were you?
31

2 Who were you datin​g?
NPY. Nearly three years by then.

3 Where​ did you work at the time?
After a year of slogging to North Vancouver, I got a job in my neighbourhood at the BC Centre for Disease Control. I was happy was a clam with this development and started my new position this very month.

4 Where​ did you live?
Same cozy 429 sqft studio as three years before. Hey, the rent was good.

5 Where​ did you hang out?
At lot at my place with NPY!

6 Did you wear conta​cts and/​or glass​es?
No.

7 Who were your best frien​d(​s)?
Vinnie, Frank, and my sister. I talked a lot on the phone with my sister and sometimes Vinnie, although we are all over the country.

8 How many tatto​os did you have?
None. Why do you keep asking? :P

9 How many pierc​ings did you have?
Two. One in each ear.

10 What car did you drive​?
None. I LOVE Cambie Village.

11 Have you had your heart​ broke​n?
Not since 2005. NPY seems to be a keeper.

12 Were you Singl​e/​Taken​/​Marri​ed/​Divor​ced?
Taken

13 Any Kids?
No. Kids are so tremendously annoying and I have no need for them. I don’t think they are in my future. But people who have been married for five years now are having them left and right. Because they are the highly fertile age of *32* and all.

*​* ​TODAY​ (March 2014)​ *​*

1 Age?
36. Eep!

2 Where​ do you work?
At a Big 4 accounting firm. Twenty-six months with firm and very happy with the opportunities it provides me.

3 Where​ do you live?
In a one-bedroom in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. I switched my allegiance – haha – from Cambie Village.

4 Who are your close​st frien​ds?
NPY. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

5 Do you talk to your old frien​ds?
Yes, at times. It is important to me to keep old friends. But it’s getting harder, even with all these instant communications options available.

6 How many pierc​ings do you have?
Two. After a few years of letting my ear piercings grow over, I got them re-pierced a year ago. Noticing how my style of earrings has changed so much from dangly/hoops/chandelier to largely studs and close to the ear.

7 How many tatto​os?
None and at this point, I groan to see so many in my face when I’m at dance or other fitness class.

8 What kind of car do you have?
Still walking everywhere. I have access whenever I want to NPY’s car. It’s my car, too, now. :P

9 Has your heart​ been broke​n?
By boys? No more. I do inflict pain on myself all of the time, though.

10 Singl​e/​Taken​/​Marri​ed/​Divor​ced/​Engag​ed?
Married!

11 How many kids?
Have known for a few years it’s just something I have to do. Hope mine is cute and smart. May have finally felt ready (oddly, while reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, during Haruki’s #1′s secret diary bit). It is around the corner.

How much have you change in 8 years?
I only feel older. Definitely more secure with myself – which is what everyone says – even when it’s no longer the “coolest” or most brilliant version of me. The door is closing on being cool. I’ve gotten more girly and creative.

Beat the Blerch

Wow.

I am officially fascinated and counting down until March 24 9:00 a.m. PDT.

Just about a year ago, I read The Oatmeal’s running comic. It’s the six-parter where illustrator Matthew Inman reveals his path from a non-runner to an ultra-marathoner. I never knew. I also didn’t take a huge liking to The Blerch. Calling it a “cherub” is overly kind. The Oatmeal is definitely not my kind of humour 50% of the time. I talked to my cousin Alan who it turns out likes The Oatmeal.

My cousin Alan turns 40 in mid-September and has on his bucket list to complete a full marathon. Being the love-and-hate-it runner I am, I want to be part of this momentous, uh, moment in my cousin’s life. Up until today, I thought we might just do the 2nd Annual Surrey International World Music Marathon. Yippee. It’s the fall marathon created to give Vancouverites a local fall marathon (the spring one is in May) – that’s the way I see it. For Alan and me, who have uncertainty in our lives, we wouldn’t have to plan to stay overnight anywhere like we would for Victoria, Kelowna or Portland, the other fall marathon options.

Then, after several months of radio silence, The Oatmeal author Matthew Inman published several posts today. He wrote a Blerch book! It will be published on September 30 but you can pre-order it already on Amazon. It is titled, “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances”. That is totally the book title I had in mind if I were to write a book about running!

But the first post I read from Feedly was his post about the/his Beat the Blerch 10/Half/Full Marathon. At first, I thought it was just another comic. But the webpage has all of the information of a road race. He’s organizing a race, to promote his book! That’s the coolest promotion ever!

The race highlights are great! Matthew Inman will be in attendance and signing copies of his new book – which isn’t even generally published for nine days after the race. The tech shirt and medal are sure to be unique – but quality will depend on his sponsors. Birthday cake, Nutella and “magical grape beverages” will be at every aid station. I might not partake but what a sight that would be! There might be Blerches in fat-suits chasing you. You won’t be charged for your photos. And a goody bag!

Gosh, this feels like an April Fool’s joke but it’s too early.

The race is just in Washington State, in Carnation, 35 minutes from Seattle. That raises a question of staying overnight somewhere (like Bellevue). But it’s a comic Alan likes. It’s very close to (and after) his actual birthday, although that is not a huge concern. It’s terribly unique. As a book promotion, there is no way to guarantee it will occur in a following year.

Yup, I’m excited.

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Vancouver’s Hot Chocolate Festival post-mortem post

This year marked the 4th year of the Hot Chocolate Festival in Vancouver. I noticed the event the first year (2011) but it didn’t make an impact on me. I was away in 2012. And last year, I was just settling back into being back. This year, no excuses! Although 20 vendors were offering 60 flavours, I could and had to limit myself to the vendors that did not require a special trip: Bel Cafe and Thierry are plausible coffee/lunch breaks from work, Terra Breads is in the vicinity of my apartment and I’ve long wanted to check out The Last Crumb.

Bel Cafe

I feel the worst about our Bel Cafe experience and it had nothing to do with the cafe itself. A work colleague and I made a late dash across the street to Bel and I was torn between extending my break or just return to work and tying up loose ends and leaving at the usual hour.

Bel Cafe is so small and busy you can just assume there is no available seating except at this high communal table that is right at the door. So we ordered the Hot Chocolate Festival special to go. I quickly ascertained from the menu that their Hot Chocolate Festival offering price was the sum of the a la carte prices of hot chocolate and a Valrhona chocolate chunk cookie. While people who got a seat were served their hot chocolate in glass double-wall cups we had to put a lid on the whipped cream and mint leaf. The crazy good cookie kind of overshadowed the hot chocolate.

Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe

For my Thierry visit, it was planned better. I invited BIL’s girlfriend to meet me around lunch hour so I could spend an hour and savour Thierry’s offering. And it turned out that NPY was downtown for the day and able to spend some time with us, too!

I was already looking forward to a trio of chocolate but Thierry delivered more than even they indicated on the Hot Chocolate Festival website. The trio consists of (1) a disk of chocolate, (2) drinking chocolate and (3) white chocolate ice cream. There was no indication that a beautiful cream puff would appear with delicious hazelnut filling!

The Last Crumb Bakery & Cafe

It seemed to me like everyone had on a visit to Main Street shops stopped in The Last Crumb except for me and NPY, and we lived the closest! So we packed up our books and head there for lunch and to study one Sunday afternoon. We weren’t the only ones studying on their upper level but the only ones indulging in hot chocolate because it was a pricey drink! The hot chocolate itself was thinner and lightly citrus-flavoured. The citrus marshmallow was fun to play with and melt and added to the creaminess.

That rapsberry chocolate cake was not part of the Hot Chocolate Festival and it pushed me over for sweet stuff!

Terra Breads

I had an opportunity to squeeze one more hot chocolate in. NPY wasn’t going to join me again but I arranged to meet my cousin after work at Terra where I ordered their hot chocolate cheekily named Call Me a Cab because of the Cabarnet that is used. It was primarily a spicy-tasting hot chocolate that was appropriate in thickness. It was also reasonably priced compared to the other hot chocolates I previously enjoyed.

Arranging hot chocolate dates was girlfriends was a nice aspect of the Hot Chocolate Festival so although I thought I didn’t need to participate next year, I will still want to keep in touch with friends. So, I’ll be back!

Skating on Rideau Canal Skateway

When it came down to it, for me, Winterlude=skating on the Rideau Canal. There were opening ceremonies celebration on Friday evening and we dropped by for a bit. There was a Bed Race on opening weekend I didn’t bother to get us to go to – since it’s not like fancy sleigh beds or anything. There’s a Winter Triathlon that I still think I could have done were it not for the logistics of it all. There were some food events (like WinterBrew). And there was the snow playground at Jacques Cartier Park, also too far to venture out to, even with a Sno-Bus shuttle running every 15 minutes.

As it turned out, both of my girlfriends wouldn’t be skating with me. I was hopefully to meet up with my cousins who were out the same afternoon but I started later and actually passed them without knowing it. It’s okay by me because the “competitive” part of me wanted to do the entire length of the skateway and record it with Runkeeper – thus the only impedance I could allow for was to stop to take pictures!

We could see people heading to the canal in the evening of the opening ceremonies but I had scheduled that our outing would be on the first full day of skating following brunch and some shopping in Byward Market.

I queued for what felt like forever for skates rental from Capital Skates. It cost $17 for two-hour skate rental and boot check ($4 separately) is included. Since they were out of figure skates at the time in my size, I was equipped with a pair of hockey skates. I’ve never worn hockey skates before and, first thing, nearly slipped backwards-darned rounded blades! Otherwise, they are so much wider and more comfortable than figure skates would have been.

While I queued for skate rentals, my girlfriends were walking around and I was alone from 0.8 km onwards after our requisite photos together.

The skateway has markers every 0.2 km and the skate rental was located at 0.4 km. The area between 0.0 and 0.4 km would be the densest of the skateway as an area where people could lace up their skates and practice their skating before going “out in the open”.

The ice was not smooth but it was not treacherous. It snowed the entire time we were out and you could see the snow piling up. Snow hitting on my skate blades was just the slightest hindrance and was not dangerous.

There were a few clusters of “food trucks” with more at the beginning few kilometers. While the Beavertails stand at 0.4 km had a long line up, the queue looked shorter at subsequent food truck stops. They seemed to be located where the skateway widened and the food truck area was separated from the skating lanes with fir trees laid out. I wanted a Beavertail and a hot drink but I didn’t want to stop!

There were many access points to the canal, each with a unique name probably corresponding to the nearest street. I heard that some people skate to work in the winter and/or row to work when the weather warms up. I love that idea but wondered if I wouldn’t find it a hassle to put on and take off equipment.

There were a few points in the skateway where it diverged and I was in two minds about which way to go. I wanted to skate all of it but didn’t know how stringent my two-hour rental would be. The first two forks looked small (and thus lovely and quiet) and I did not follow the fork. When I got down to Dow’s Lake, it was a large fork in the skateway I could not ignore. The distance markers continued out on the fork so I had to take it.

As I skated out on the Dow’s Lake loop, it occurred to me that I was on the Winterlude Triathlon course. I wondered how fast I could have been. Now I’m sure the skating would have been a breeze. That I would have sapped my energy on the cross country skiing and just walked and dragged my feet during the run! What a treat it would be to be on the skateway at an early hour, free of the recreational skaters (not that I’m much better) and with a bunch of speedsters!

After completing the Dow’s Lake loop, I made it down to 7.8 km. I’m so sad it didn’t occur to me to take a selfie! But really, my camera was getting wetting from the non-stop snowfall and when I so much as wrangled my phone out of my pocket and took my mind off skating, I would wobble and nearly fall!

I really wish NPY had been there! A hockey player, he doesn’t like skating in circles and weaving through the same old crowds at public skate at the rink and the Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink. There weren’t as many speed skaters as I thought there would be. There weren’t as many beginners as I thought there would be either. We simply have to make a trip in the future!

Skating alone was like anything else I do alone outside-I got a little bored. Like renting a kayak for two hours, I see how far I can go in an hour and then turn around. I wasn’t up for doing the Dow’s Lake loop again so I did not do, strictly speaking, 7.8 km times two. At the risk of burning through my cellphone battery already tracking my activity, I amused myself with a Songza playlist of acoustic version of pop songs suitable for listening to while curled up in front of a fireplace!

In terms of discomfort, at times, the snow falling was really big and would go directly into my eyes – a brim to my hat would have helped! My wool mittens soaked through and my scarf froze and scratched my jaw and chin. The skate boot bruised my right inner ankle and at times I thought I wouldn’t make it back. How does one even limp on skates?

Otherwise, the snowy conditions provided a lovely and unique atmosphere (you couldn’t get that indoors!). It was truly wonderous to be on an “endless” outdoor rink and it felt really good to be on the ice. Granted, it was forward direction skating so you never had to make sharp turns (I wasn’t up for crosscuts) and stopping on a dime was not necessary and you’ll naturally slow down on the rougher ice. My challenge to myself was to return on time and not wipe out – both were accomplished as well as an item on my Canadian Bucket List!

Dining out during a girls’ weekend in Ottawa

So, this was an interesting one. My two girlfriends and I met 15-16 years ago in 1998/9. (Whoa!) But we’ve lived in different cities since around 2003. We haven’t come altogether since 2007 and that was just for a day so it was a supreme treat – and proves it’s not impossible – to spend a weekend together!

And what was it like to have more than just one meal together when one of us it just passing through the other’s town? Here’s how it went.

Murray Street kwc

It was way too easy to get to Ottawa when you’re staying in Toronto just a stone’s throw from the airport in the city and the airline (Porter) is hassle-free. We also cabbed from the Ottawa airport to the hotel and while it looked closer on a map, it was still so easy. We found the Marriott Courtyard – the only hotel in Ottawa’s Byward Market – to be wonderfully central but then I had also planned our activities to kind of center in the Market.

My first plan was to hit up Murray Street kwc (kitchen | wine | charcuterie) which sounded really cool. The decor was dark and luxe like a gentleman’s club and on a Friday lunch, we were only the second table. There were a few items that caught our eye – amongst them a corned beef sandwich and pulled pork – and we both chose the flat iron steak sandwich. I was sold when the waitress aid the beef was smothered in cheese sauce.

When our food arrived, it looked way too modest. No sides listed, no sides came with it. But perhaps my eyes were hungrier than my stomach (which was hungry). The presentation of an open faced beef sandwich smothered in cheese was greatly improved with the mixed greens and purple sprout touch. We talked and strategized about the weekend and took delicate bites and it was the right size portion. The marinated beef was truly tender and delicious and the cheese sauce blended from artisanal varieties was so good I didn’t want to leave a drop. Even the toasted and buttered baguette beneath it all was deserving of praise.

Moulin De Provence Bakery

After our “light” lunch, we walked around Byward Market with no particular goal other than to explore. When we hit the end of the commercial area, we would turn around and start down the next street. Vinnie remembered a great bakery from her last visit and it wasn’t hard to locate Moulin De Provence in the large building that houses the market and other food stalls. In the winter, the bakery seals all of the windows; I heard in the summer, it is an open-air bakery.

The display was drool-worthy and I marveled at the savoury baked items topped with shredded cheese. I gather that when you order it, it gets heated in an oven that freshly melts the cheese on your roll, croissant, etc. Delicious! Again, I was torn between a slice of mousse cake, a couple other pastries and a chocolate danish. I must have had the unforgettable chocolate brioche I had in Paris in mind and it was good but no comparison.

 

Metropolitan Brasserie Restaurant

When my cousins and I couldn’t get into one pub on Friday night after work, we made a last minute reservation at Metropolitan. I only had a martini (French Riviera with strawberry vodka, melon, Chambord  and lime) that was lovely to sip. The art deco decorated restaurant was bustling yet the waiter was kind to us having essentially just drinks during early dinner hour. My cousin took advantage of the happy hour Hill Special of $1 oysters and shrimps. The shrimp looked great to me but I just ripped apart warm baguette and enjoyed it with butter.

Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience

When Vinnie likened Fat Tuesday’s to Margaritaville, I got worried. I believe I was in a Margaritaville in Vegas and I felt like our group was conspiciously uncomfortable with the kitsch. But it was a Fat Tuesday (no relation) in St. Kitts that was like Margaritaville. Whew! Fat Tuesday’s has been on our itinerary from the start. I rarely get to have “Southern” cuisine.

We started with a drink each and I ordered a nice and spicy Caesar, most excited to learn what a Louisiana skewer was. What a fun skewer with olive, green bean, sausage and jalapeno! We couldn’t easily decide between the fried chicken and the jambalaya and – what would you know – the three of us all ordered jambalaya! The girls ordered a fish taco each and it not sounding like a Southern specialty and I wanted to increase my “vegetables” order, I got the fried green tomatoes. In the panko crust, they looked like crab cakes that you can savour slowly and divvy into quarters each. The first thing the girls noticed was the rice in the jambalaya was undercooked – it wasn’t raw and crunchy but we could tell it wasn’t quite there yet. It didn’t seem entirely like it was made with love and care but it was still tasty and comforting, you know?

So, Fat Tuesday’s has the only duelling pianos show in Ottawa. The show takes place every Saturday but it was a special Friday show and I was happy to finally get to take in a show. We thought we might move away from our front row seat but it was quite fun to be front and center with no obstructions to the pianist and a great view of dancers and other characters. When I paid particular attention to the last song before their break (Benny and the Jets), I was sooo impressed by their rapport with each other and the audience, any and all improvisation, singing and their strong piano-pounding fingers. The pianist reminded me of a former co-worker I wouldn’t look at twice but he seemed more attractive due to his talent. Our positive experience at Fat Tuesday’s is tied up with the show and we’re so glad it was good because our second stop was a bust.

Mambo Nuevo Latino

During our walk around the Market the day before, Vinnie and I had spied Mambo’s signage that declared $15 lunch/brunch including a beverage. The semi-permanent banner was a little tacky but it got us to return for a no-fuss brunch the next morning. On a Saturday for brunch, we were the only customers and I gave them a pass – they probably have good business in the evening? They appear to offer a vibrant dinner and then turn into a lounge and dance club.

First off, the coffee was good, not your usual commercial brand taste. We had a great deal of choice between lunch selections and brunch selections. Given they weren’t busy, I want to order something foolproof. I wanted something “authentic”. And I wanted to avoid menu items with cilantro without having to ask them to change it. It was hard to satisfy all three! I ended up getting a wrap (wrap=less carbs) while the quesadilla Vinnie ordered did appeal to me (but not the mozzarella cheese used) and the El Cubano pulled pork sandwich Mona ordered (not usually a fan of pulled pork). I probably got the most American item! The chicken was tender and perfectly cubed and I just liked all of the ingredients in the wrap and the use of green spinach tortilla. The fries were average yet I still ate too many of them.

Bangkok Thai Garden Restaurant [Urbanspoon]

I had a couple of restaurant suggestions from doing my research but after a day out and including a skate on the canal skateway (after which I was frozen), I was down with getting something simple, local and comforting. We went with the Thai place advertising outside its door a $15 dinner combo with Thai-like decor over the its neighbour, a brightly-lit and spartan-looking kebab place. The kebab place had patrons who were Arabic and Bangkok Thai Garden had all Caucasian patrons. But we can’t expect so much in Ottawa, right?

From the dinner combination, we could each find a main that we wanted. Red curry for me, of course. The hot & sour soup to start with was very simple and the spring rolls were cute and small. The red curry was average tasting and all you could expect in a cheap dinner combo.

 

Club Caliente

Oh, Ottawa, where cover and coat check is only $8 and drinks are relatively cheap. From the outset of planning for the trip, Vinnie wanted to check out a Spanish club and conveniently there’s one in Byward Market and only half a block away from the hotel. The dance floor is upstairs and it’s small and it wasn’t packed. Still, it was sufficiently busy and people danced to every song that it wasn’t lame. I quickly concluded that a Spanish dance club is a place I’ll like – there is a (small) barrier to entry that is an appreciation and ability to dance to the music that will deter just anyone young and old to want to come. These days, we really don’t want to be with the youngin’s.

(It was a brilliant contrast to be in the hot – i.e., hot Latin music – club on the second floor and take a look outside to the Market and see the continuous snow fall blanketing everything outdoors.)

The music fell roughly into three types: salsa, merengue and bachata. I don’t know salsa from some other up-tempo music but you know because all of the people taking salsa lessons go on the dance floor and practice their moves. I don’t know merengue from salsa exactly but that’s when the dance floor thins out while salsa learners take a break. When Vinnie first told me about and raved about bachata, I thought it might be a really (really) sultry dance but it’s just a romantic dance. I loved the rumba when I learned it (another dance of love) but it’s woefully unpopular. Seems like bachata supplanted it – or maybe it was there all along. We left just before the club closed at 2 a.m. and went onto …

Dunn’s Famous Deli

I had pizza in mind while maybe the girls wanted shawarma (we were, afterall, in Ottawa) and we ended up being drawn in by the big Dunn’s sign and the 24-hour part of it of Dunn’s, across the street from the hotel. It was more comfortable seating than a tiny pizza or shawarma joint steaming up because of too many people breathing inside.

At 2:30 a.m., Dunn’s was hopping the influx of the clubbing crowd that had just let out. Okay, the smallest item at Dunn’s was more food than a slice (or two) of pizza or even a shawarma but we picked out some favourites – the menu did seem to indicate all were popular. The poutine had a delicious gravy and the chili on my chili cheese hot dog was nice and thick.

The Manx Pub

After a late and heavy meal, we didn’t want to budge from the hotel until the original check-out time. And the 25-minute walk down Elgin to Manx was a good way to gain an appetite. The Manx Pub is rated a very local place to have brunch and Mona had mentioned it, too. Below street level, it is divey to the hilt with stained upholstery with the previous customer’s crumbs and one annoying fruit fly that liked to hang around us. And the host/waiter was unnaturally mellow…

I wanted a traditional breakfast but I was actually a bit adverse to bacon or even sausage for once. I thought the sides of the breakfast (toast, potatoes) might kill me. So I went with a fried egg sandwich and wondered what a $10 sandwich with a cheap ingredient (egg) would be like.

It was our favourite meal of the trip – it was our last meal. The girls ordered traditional breakfasts and were disappointed to learn the yummy-sounding braised mushrooms were out (it was, afterall, 2 p.m. when we arrived). What they called “hashbrowns” on their menu was actually served as a garlicky mashed potato. That is so different and it was so good. I had no other sides than the “hashbrown” but my sandwich was thick with fresh and fragrant sourdough-like white bread and a stack of refreshing lettuce. The egg was cooked just right and the rich egg with melted cheese and creamy guacamole hit the spot in one sandwich. I was also glad to dine – if for just one meal – outside of Byward Market!

The Scone Witch [Facebook]

Their 150 Elgin location is not well advertised – in fact, the cafe needs their own website and not to rely on a Facebook page! – and it worked out so well since we were dining farther down Elgin at The Manx Pub. 150 Elgin is a new space for The Scone Witch, converted to a great, open cafe space with open bakery. Vinnie and hubby brought the cafe to my attention and what better Ottawa souvenir for NPY than a gift of food/scones? We each got assorted flavours – half dozen each – for me: vanilla/cream, orange/cranberry, lemon-poppyseed, strawberry & yogurt (special of the month), cheddar, and herb and onion! They are a thing of beauty in the box, so crusty and flaky looking. With a bit of butter and heated up again, they were so soft and maddeningly good!

Niagara Ice Wine Festival blitz on a Discovery Pass

I ordered a pair of Discovery Passes months before the festival, once I knew for sure I was going and had secured a hotel (the new Wyndham Garden Hotel). The $40 pass contains eight vouchers to be used for ice wine-food pairings that cost $10 individually. Why did I buy the passes so early? What if they sold out??

Then the fun began reading about the pairings and selecting a route. I tend to favour savoury foods and I wondered with the wineries only being open six hours and potentially leaving early on the second day, how would we squeeze in eight wineries? Will the roads be difficult to drive even with a rental car with snow tires? Should I have gotten a shuttle pass (another $40) or would I be driving “drunk”? Would the winery route be patrolled by police?

Konzelmann Estate Winery

Coming into Niagara-on-the-Lake on the QEW, hitting up Konzelmann Estate Winery on Lakeshore was the natural first stop. Konzelmann is in a cute manor and I called them to inquire about the ice wine offering because some other wineries had stated “No reservations required” , thus, did I need to make some at Konzelmann? The staff who answered my call was so friendly and assured me it was informal generally during the wine festival and there was a lot of room and plenty for everyone.

They were pouring a 2010 Vidal ice wine and pairing it with a PEI lobster bisque topped with fresh cream and a backerhaus crostini. It was lukewarm but nice. We perused the wine boutique and I came away with a bottle of their red Sushi Wine. The sushi wines debuted only a year ago for which they threw a big sushi party. Time/excuse for my own sushi party and I knew we’ll be ordering from Sushi California!

 

 

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery

We drive along Lakeshore to Jackson Triggs’ Niagara winery. Like in the Okanagan, their building looks modern and specifically built. As we would experience in later wineries, they were serving their pairing in their dining hall, a bright window-lined room where you could sit comfortably and hang out for a bit.

They were pouring a 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc (red!) ice wine paired with a piece of Valrhona cocoa and caraway ribs topped with pineapple avocado salsa. The enthusiastic young server described the flavours and how it worked with the bolder red ice wine. The rib was not as tender as I would have liked but the flavour was good. They would have one of the nicest presentations we would see.

Peller Estates Winery

We walked into the busy and buzzing wine boutique and saw plenty of people at the multiple counters doing tastings but what was the pairing again and where was it taking place? We’d learn the wineries separated ice wine pairings from their wine shops where the regular tastings take place. We were directed to go outside… brrr!

Four fire pits were going on outside as the two ice wines being poured were paired with marshmallows you roast yourself! I can’t remember what was being poured but the second glass (two samples!) was an oaked (or unoaked?) Chardonnay ice wine. The giant square marshmallows were skewered with correspondingly thick sticks and we eagerly proceeded to roast them at the nearest fire pit.

I roasted mine perfectly and the outermost layer was a dream-crisp like a creme brulee top. Something was special about these marshmallows. Indeed, I would read later they are made fresh, a brilliant creation of winery chef and CityLine personality Jason Parsons, coated with ice wine reduction. No wonder about how it crisped up! I was so happy that it was totally okay to roast the inside layer as well. :P

We enjoyed our second marshmallow and ice wine inside in the large reception area furnished with many couches. The cozy lobby reminded me of the Grouse Mountain chalet but with more refined and cleaner. It felt like a party at a mansion. :-)

 

 

The second glass of ice wine made me feel a little warm so we killed some more time trying their offerings from the Icewine Market Menu, a boar sausage and poutine. Have I said it was a really nice place to hang out??

Ahead of the trip, I had a few worries. I worried because I was declining full insurance on the car and the pushy associate at the counter tried to scare me about a full size car’s ability to handle the road to get me to upgrade to a 4×4. Not a chance! Driving was fine even though I had just five hours of sleep. The roads were fine with some slippery patches on the regional roads but nothing bad. I also worried about potentially being drunk. There was no need to worry-the pours of ice wine, which has no more alcohol content than wine, were just about one ounce. And we would visit the wine shop and spend more time”sobering up”.

Reif Estate Winery

As we drove up to Reif Estate I wondered why I had picked that place. We soon found out when we went behind the wine shop and entered a cellar-like room. The corrugated walls are painted black and the ceiling was high. They were holding their annual pig roast and the pork was being handled by two guys from Pig Out! Each of us were given a glass of Reif Estate Vidal ice wine and a spit roasted porketta sandwich with apple ice wine sauce. I also snagged a crisp piece of the skin. The pork was so tender and good even with no additional flavours!

I like the branding of some of their wines, reminiscent of tarot cards. I got a bottle of Hanging Man Kerner which is sweet and
a little earthy. (Update: while the Kerner tasted earthy to me when I tasted it after having ice wine and the sandwich, I brought it with a wine tasting where the earthy taste was then missing.)

 

 

Inniskillin Wines

Our fifth and last stop for the was Inniskillin, otherwise if we went to a sixth winery, we would only have two vouchers for the next day… balance!  They were pouring their 2012 Riesling ice wine and paired it with lobster chili which we enjoyed in their Founder’s Hall. It was a bit like a bean minestrone with lobster claws visible. It had a fennel and caraway taste that I thought paired extremely well with the ice wine.

 

I don’t know if it was the impending Chinese New Year looming up or just how luxe it looks, but I loved the deep red labels. We saw the ultimate luxury wine item (for me)-sparkling ice wine! So pricey!

I’ve found it at the Wine Rack but going to Inniskillin was going to the source to get my beloved East West Discovery Series wine. They had a new label! So I had to get more! I couldn’t find the Chardonnay and got the only other white (a Gewurztraminer-Reisling) and a bottle of Cabernet-Merlot (other choice was Cabernet-Shiraz).

On Sunday, after a simple breakfast at Blue Line Diner which is attached to an amazing warehouse of hockey merchandise, we were off to use the last the vouchers of the Discovery Pass!

Chateau des Charmes

The last time I passed by Chateau des Charmes it was closed for a private event. And I wanted “dessert” following breakfast. If you hadn’t noticed, most all of the first five pairings were with savoury food items.

They were pouring a Vidal ice wine and pairing it with bite sized caramelized maple cheesecake. The cheesecake bite was perfect and the maple taste was so intense and also nutty.

The reception was nice and warm and when we discovered CV had misplaced her Discovered Pass, were so nice to give her the pairing anyways. We visited the wine shop where I picked up a small bottle of Chardonnay (i.e., 375mL).

 

Southbrook Vineyards

Had I been to Southbrook before? Oh yes, it was our first stop during my 2011 visit, the sleek and one with the awe-inspiring periwinkle blue wall. Way to set yourself apart!

In a bright and beautiful dining hall, they were pouring a 2006 Cabernet Franc ice wine and pairing it with a grilled cheese with Niagara pears, smoked ham, aged Montforte sheep cheddar and ice wine syrup. What a nice bite, even though I wasn’t hungry anymore. Their red ice wine, with only one other to compare with, was much less sweet, and CV enjoyed it most. To me, then, it was a bit like port.

In the wine shop, I was sold in their organic stance. Aren’t grapes part of the Dirty Dozen? (Yes.) I wanted to get a bottle of Connect for an upcoming wine tasting party, just because. Instead, I got a pack of Bioflavia/Pluck Berry Blend tea with powdered grape skins. Then I also picked up a bottle of their organic and biodynamic ice wine!

 

 

Pillitteri Estates Winery

Down to our last winery, so it was Pilliteri which has an extensive collection of different ice wines. I almost passed the winery since it looked more like a farmer’s market, a single story and long structure with a red roof. The grocery side didn’t look familiar but the wine shop did.

Pilliteri brought in a Beavertails truck to create their pairing: 2007 Chardonnay ice wine (their sweetest) and half a Beavertail topped with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar. It was CV’s first Beavertail! What an appropriate way to cap off the weekend with a really nice and complex tasting ice wine and Canadian treat.

The Chardonnay ice wine was so good but corresponding pricey, so I bought a late harvest Riesling ice wine with purportedly the same flavour notes.

 

 

That rounds out the lovely weekend which I call a complete success. Entire Discovery Pass used, new wineries discovered and great memories created. :)