Category Archives: Food

Back On Track

Like many parents I saw my kids off to school today for their first day of grades five and ten. I’m now reaching up to kiss one child and trying to keep up with another who’s a whirlwind.

Like many parents there’s a part of me that is a bit melancholic about the end of summer and what it entails: the knowledge that our time together grows shorter or is changing, fewer days of sleeping in and eating late, cooler nights that herald colder days. I relish a return to more structure for my work because pulling all-nighters to write and edit so that I can spend the day at the beach with my kids takes days to recover from, but the last few days of August and the early days of September are my time to wallow in a bit of sadness. After several days the wallowing will get boring and I’ll return to normal, but for now….wallow wallow.

I’m not fond of strict schedules and haven’t raised my kids that way, but structuring my days while they’re at school flying solo is good. More daylight hours in which to write + time away from my desk to get outside = a more reasonable bedtime and fewer bags under the eyes. Guys, my under eye bags aren’t delicate or cute, they’re the size of hockey bags.

beach, kids, girls, morning, rocks, shore, beach combing, water, lake, Lake Ontario

We start every school year with a bit of beachcombing before school drop-off, but just so you don’t sit there thinking, “How does she have time to get ready AND go to the beach and mygawd she’s one of those moms who creates fruit and hummus art for her kids’ lunches,” our morning went something like this:

Me: Wake up, kids.

Them: …………..

Me: C’mon, time to get up.

Them: ……….glurghbrrhumpph

Repeat steps three and four another few (countless) times.

Me: WAKE UP!

Them: Yawn. OKAY, we heard you.

Me: Seriously?

They stumbled to the shower, back to their rooms, downstairs, upstairs, outside — it’s a wonder nobody tripped during all that stumbling — and then they were so rushed that we had to leave for school without breakfast, so this morning the kids ate scrambled eggs, raspberries, and drank juice out of plastic containers in the back of the Jeep while D and I drove them to their first day of school. And so it begins.

We dropped off Bou at his high school and I hopped out to say hi and bye to my niece who was also being dropped off, and because my primary role as the mother of a teenager is to embarrass him whenever I can, I offered to give him a big smooch as his friends were arriving. Sadly he doesn’t embarrass enough — or at all — and he leaned down instead to hug me before going off to find his friends. I’ll hang on to this victory for the days when our primary form of communication consists of him eye-rolling and shrugging and me huffing.

We have almost one hour between the two school start times, so we’ve made it a tradition to head down to the beach for some play time; it’s the calm before the excitement.

The summer sped by; we had family from France for a visit in August, went camping a few times, one of my closest friends came for a sleepover with her family (More of that please!), I took 5 trillions photos, we spent countless hours at the barn, and I spent zero hours working out — Oh, hello, tight pants. — and generally kept a very poor, but full schedule. Sandwiched between all that I still wrote, just not here.

You can make my chocolate, coconut zucchini bread and bacon and cheese jalapeños recipes, which could explain the tight pants, and read about conquering the meeting new people jitters at Yummy Mummy Club.

Over at Life In Pleasantville I wrote host and houseguest posts that will guarantee you less pre-visit preparation angst and score you repeat invites.

So…the moral is, I’m back on track. Are you getting there? Or were you always there, in which case I don’t want to hear about it and we likely can’t be friends.

A Taste of Burlington: Summer Edition

One of the benefits of living in a diversified region like the Greater Toronto Area — GTA for short, because seriously, the alternative is a mouthful — is access to great restaurants. It used to be that if you wanted a good meal prepared by a hot chef, you headed downtown Toronto. Not anymore. As outlying communities grow, and as diners seek out quality, creativity, and fresh ingredients, so too have chefs been able to showcase their skills outside of the city. And thankfully, for those who live in the area it means there’s no shortage of restaurants.

A Taste of Burlington, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, tourism, Tourism Burlington, food, restaurants, chefs, prix fixe menu, great food, Niagara Escarpment, event, summer

Playtime on Lake Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario sits on the north shore of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Hamilton. Close by is the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, with kilometers of trails perfect for winter or summer activities. With access to hiking and cycling trails, an abundance of local farms and vineyards, as well as a vibrant waterfront, Burlington attracts a lot of visitors. And visitors, as well as locals, need to be fed.

A Taste of Burlington showcases the many restaurants in town. From July 20 to August 3, 2014, twenty-six restaurants will feature prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner. It’s a popular program that also encourages restaurants to include local ingredients on their menus.

This past week marked the official kick-off of A Taste of Burlington with an evening of food, live music, and beer — thanks, Cameron’s Brewing Company, I really liked the Rye Bock — and the event was sold out. Lesson learned for next time: don’t eat for 12 hours beforehand and wear stretchy clothes. The standouts were the marrowed carrots and pea purée from Ivy Bar and Kitchen, the pecan crusted salmon with sweet potato hash (forevermore known as heaven) from Stone House Restaurant, and the chocolate brownie with Guinness chocolate sauce from Ye Olde Squire. Ye Olde Squire was already a favourite pub, but chocolate paired with Guinness makes them genius.

A Taste of Burlington, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, tourism, Tourism Burlington, food, restaurants, chefs, prix fixe menu, great food, Niagara Escarpment, event, summer

Pulled beef sliders from Honey West.

A Taste of Burlington, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, tourism, Tourism Burlington, food, restaurants, chefs, prix fixe menu, great food, Niagara Escarpment, event, summer

Marrowed carrots and pea purée from Ivy Bar and Kitchen.

A Taste of Burlington, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, tourism, Tourism Burlington, food, restaurants, chefs, prix fixe menu, great food, Niagara Escarpment, event, summer

Heaven, or Guinness chocolate sauce to top the brownies from Ye Olde Squire.

It’s likely that any one of the other 300+ people in attendance will have a different group of standouts, and that’s what makes A Taste of Burlington such a great event; there are a variety of foods to choose from prepared by chefs from different backgrounds. But get down there quickly, because the prix fixe program ends August 3rd.

 

* For details on participating restaurants and their menus visit A Taste of Burlington.

I was invited to the launch event, but any food I tasted was of my own choosing (and I chose a lot of food) and my threat to leave with the cauldron of Guinness chocolate sauce was not endorsed by anyone.

A Macaron In Vientiane

It began with a love for French pastries.

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a city that seems comfortable embracing its French colonial past, traditional Lao roots, and the current headlong push into modern times. The residents face challenges living with such a tumultuous past, but the impression is of resilient people who value their unique heritage. For the visitor, it means being able to just as easily step into a Lao restaurant for a traditional tam mak houng (spicy, green papaya salad) as a French café serving real croissant. Or even a teahouse with macarons delicious enough to rival the biggest names in Paris.

Soujata Inthavong, whose family owns the Dhavara Boutique Hotel, and who runs the Suksavanh River Hotel located on the banks of the Mekong River, is the master behind this delicious French secret tucked into the heart of Laos.

I stayed at the Suksavanh River Hotel during my recent visit to Vientiane. Inthavong and her partner recently took over management of the hotel and have exciting changes planned that will take nothing away from its current charming and unpretentious vibe. It’s a surprising find—tucked across from the Mekong River down a quiet lane—considering how close it is to the heart of the city, major historical and Buddhist sites, and its proximity to the Mekong. There are grander hotels, but the Suksavanh suited me perfectly.

Suksavanh River Hotel, Vientiane, laos, hotel, travel writing, travel river, Mekong, photograph

Each evening began with quiet time sitting on the banks of the river, watching a sunset that never grew old. Once night fell, I made it my goal to taste dishes from different roadside vendors, always on the hunt for the tastiest food I could find. And then I’d walk and walk and walk. Sometimes to busier sections of the riverside, passing bars with live music and vendors hawking more food, traditional Lao skirts, and kitschy, tourist geegaws (made in China). Other times I’d walk in the opposite direction, to a section of the riverside that still falls quiet at night, where fishermen come out with their nets as they have for generations. Then I’d make my way back to the hotel to sit and talk and listen to stories, or to listen to Teng Sihapanya—Inthavong’s partner and one of my distant cousins—sing melancholic Lao songs and 1960s French ballads while picking at his guitar.

Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos, sunset, photograph, travel writing, family, travelling, river, holidays

Mekong River, sunset, Laos, Vientiane, travel, travels writing, sunset, river, travel

Fisherman's dock in Vientiane on the Mekong River.

Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos, sunset, fisherman, fishing, photograph, travel writing, travel, family, holidays

It was during one of those evenings that Soujata Inthavong and I discovered a bond beyond our family ties, the love of pastries. Inthavong loves macarons, admittedly not my favourite because I usually find them sickly sweet. She scoured books and websites for recipes to try and tweak to her liking. After many attempts Inthavong found the perfect combo of ingredients that blends local Lao flavours with less than half the sugar content of traditional recipes.

Because I’m family, or maybe because I’m so obviously a pastry fanatic, Inthavong invited me back to see the making of her macarons, which she sells out of Dhavara Macarons and Tea. The kitchen is tiny. I will in the future curb my complaints about lack of counter space now that I’ve seen this kitchen, and those of other restaurants that are still (obviously) able to make the most amazing food. This, despite the lack of conveniences we’re spoiled with in Canada.

Once in the kitchen, I promptly and completely freaked out her young pastry chef when she told him I’d be watching and taking photos. He looked to be about sixteen (though he wasn’t) and had a dexterous hand with a pastry piper that I will likely never have. Once he got past his shyness and I assured him I was there to admire, and hopefully steal a macaron or two, he agreed to the photos. While I was at the teahouse patrons came and went, some were tourists, but many were locals on their lunch break, coming to treat themselves to a little piece of France.

I’m still undecided about which one of the many flavours is my favourite: taro, green tea, or tamarind. Between my indecision over macarons and the Mekong sunsets it might be time for a return trip.

macarons, Vientiane, Laos, French, France, pastries, food, family, travel writing, photographs

macarons, Vientiane, Laos, French, pastries, France, travel, Laos, travel writing, food, photographs

If you’d like to read more about Laos, I recently wrote Five Surprising Things About Laos for Life In Pleasantville. And while you’re at it, learn to make Lao Coconut Chicken.

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