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Marrakech

Our cab from the train station is yet another broken car, but this time it’s called a “tiny taxi”; it’s labelled carefully on the side of the roof (they should have taken this much care with the interior – again it looks like a bomb went off in it – there are holes where the instruments should be). Our driver can’t speak English nor French. He is intent on taking us but he can’t even read the name of the hotel. He drives us to where all the Western hotels are and asks someone to read our note (JT thought it would be a good idea to write down our address and hotel name). He tried telling us how much it cost in Arabic, we couldn’t understand, so we gave him 40 Dirhams, then low and behold he said “no 50!” We get to our hotel with the short detour, it was only around $8, which wasn’t bad. Our Ryad is very an ancient building in the old part of Marrakech (Medina). It’s barely noticeable on the road (just a door with a number); it’s a busy road. There are no windows; I thought it was strange, but the heat and the street noise makes it better that there isn’t. Still weird. Our room is interesting but small and it’s clean. The only window opens into the inner courtyards, which are open to the sky. There are tall trees that grow from the ground floor to the top which has an open air deck. The deck encompasses the entire roof and has many flowering trees, lemons and limes in pots; the furniture is club-like, wicker with cushions. It’s really lovely. it rained like a demon all yesterday afternoon so we were unable to enjoy it. We were greeted with a welcome tea, of hot sweet water poured over a lot of fresh mint. We like mint, but it was a little too minty (like mouthwash, but hot). The tea is served in short clear glasses with a napkin tied around it. There were two each mini sweets of a butter pastry and an almond filling. Both very tasty, and very sweet. The Moroccans are not swelt people.

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The Riad served us lunch in one of their several little nooks throughout the two buildings (they are joined to make one). Lunch was a slow cooked tangine of Moroccan Meat Balls in a dark sauce; we tasted cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, tomatoes and raisins. There was also a couscous mixed into it. It was delicious; we had to consciously slow down because we were eating too fast. It was served with a whole wheat bun. Our hostess gave us a map and we ventured on our first tour of Marakech by foot.
Stand aside, the traffic is like no other! Mopeds, motorcycles and mini cars and trucks screaming by you so close that if your toes pointed out they would be run over! It’s sheer madness. There are thousands of people walking through the markets; some with walking and driving space, and some just a metre wide but that doesn’t stop a stinky motor cycle to come ploughing through; the stores are tiny too, enough for a counter and a chair if you’re lucky. Everything seems to be on the ground or low to the ground. Parts of this souk are not touristy (barbers, dry cleaners, butchers (the CFIA and FDA would cringe), fabric stores, kitchen shops etc) sadly I have not seen much of anything that I want to buy. After about ten minutes of walking through this chaotic maze we entre into a large square of small caravan stands with more unappealing goods. And Angela warning: there are SNAKE charmers!! Really disgusting snakes. I carefully got a picture of one but he noticed and we had to pretend not to hear/understand and run away. I’m sure he just wanted money – it was a disgusting cobra!
Contrary to what I’ve read, the people are pushy and persuasive, I would even liken them to the vendors in Jamaica who are relentless (mind you the Moroccan vendors do eventually give up). We had several young, well dressed gentlemen stop us and make suggestions on where to walk in the medina, to avoid the tourist traps, of course (how nice) but if we can also see his family’s stores, just over there. They’ll take care of you, he said. I, personally abhor this type if high pressure sales, it’s too confrontational and I hate to have to be rude. Today we’re going to pretend to speak only Hungarian, I’m certain they will give up sooner when they think there is no chance of communication.
We met the owner of our Ryad today, an American/UK gentleman. He was entertaining some travel agents in our Ryad, but he came over to welcome us. Upon our arrival back from dinner, our room had been turned down and our bed was decorated with red rose petals. On the suggestion of the owner we’re doing a half day cooking course here with our chef this afternoon. It will be similar to Maison MK on Sunday but we’re both tired of the mayhem outside the walls and thought another lesson would be fun! I am hoping that the chef can guide us to the better spice vendors so I can buy some wonderful spices to bring home.
Off now for some strategic souk exploration, some historical properties and some gardens; cooking course for dinner tonight!

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We arrived to Casablanca after 20+ hours of travel; tired but invigorated by the excitement of it all. Neither of us slept on our journey, as we both suspected. It was, non eventful. We were able to get into the Air France/KLM business class lounge for an additional $34 each-well worth it, the most luxurious part of our journey. The rows of taxis at the airport are all Mercedes Benz, and they are all junkers, barely any rust on the outside, but really beat up on the inside.
The taxi into Casablanca was exciting; traffic mayhem everywhere; the cabby (we communicated by our broken French) said the trip should be 1/2 hour, it was 60+ minutes! People cross willy nilly everywhere.
There is a small truck with sheep on its roof! Yes, sheep on the roof! The have a loose net to protect them! The cabby tells me that on Monday 5 of these roof sheep fell off and were killed when the driver took a corner too fast!
The smell of diesel and constant honking (drivers have little patience) reminds me of my childhood vacations in Budapest. The city is in disrepair; construction is everywhere, it does not look rich. Our hotel, a Royal Meridien in the Medina (town centre) is very nice. It is tastefully decorated on the traditional Moroccan style, with some western influences (relatively modern bathroom, A/C).
Our first dinner was in the hotel, we were both beat from not sleeping for 30+ hours. It was exceptional; our waiter took extra time to explain some of their food, he seemed very excited to tell us about it. The service is wonderful, food incredible! He let us borrow the fez (hats) for the photo that he also generously took for us.
We had an incredible sleep and now we’re on our way by train to Marrakech! Sadly, we arrive one hour before the train was to leave and the first class is already sold out. This trip will be a humbling experience. It’s pouring rain and not overly hot nor humid. The ride is 3+ hours, it’s quite warm and the windows don’t open.
I shall update this post as I can.
The train is late; seems to be expected, people are arriving 10 minutes after it should have left. A family with two ladies carrying their babies arrive beside us; two young gentlemen literally jumped up from their seats on the platform to offer it to them – would happen infrequently in Toronto. The train is like the commuter in Chicago, pretty much the same vintage. It’s packed; we chose a car and enter with two weeks worth of luggage. The attendant makes an old guy get up and move to another car so we can sit together. People are very pleasant; they speak Parisian French; thank God I know a little!
The countryside is flat, and not overly green. The few cows, mules and dogs we’ve seen are reasonably healthy looking; not like the Caribbean, where you can count their ribs.

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As you have known for quite some time, we are off to Morocco. I am unsure of the wifi availability in the desert, but if there is I will surely post a few photos. I won’t have access to my computer (just my lowly little iPhone) so the pictures will be cheap and cheerful. I will try to continue to read and comment on your blogs, my dear blogger friends, but I’m sure you will forgive me if I miss a few during this epic holiday.

Stay safe and happy. ‘See’ you soon!

Eva

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It’s our last day in Montreal; our flight is with Porter at 2:30 so we have most of the morning to enjoy this gorgeous city.
We ordered breakfast in our room, some hot coffee, flaky croissants, some salami and three types of cheese…my ultimate breakfast.
Here are a couple of pictures of our room at the Nelligan ,JT took with his iPhone4!

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The bathroom had a separate glass shower, and a gigantic jacuzzi tub! Very extravagant.
We did a little shopping in the morning, but left enough time for a decent lunch in the old part (priorities!)
We ate at La Jardin Nelson, again. Normally I like to experience new places, but the inner courtyard was so wonderful and the live jazz was stupendous, we had to do it. I had the Caprese again, so good, and JT had a Pork loin salad with watermelon, feta and grapes – very tasty.
This is the live jazz band:

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These are the beautiful flowers draping the walls:

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We arrived at Pierre Trudeau airport, now I’m just sitting around blogging! Love free WiFi!

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We made a great breakfast of fried eggs, breakfast sausage, hash-browns and muffins – all made outside on the griddle! We ate plein air at the picnic table. It was a little muggy, but at least it wasn’t raining…yet. Within minutes of cleaning up, the skies opened up and the rain came down like there was no tomorrow! It lasted about an hour, so we waited it out!
We hopped in the car and ventured to down town Montreal, a 30 minute drive. This was Paul and Ts, first time and Bill and Jan’s second time (they were here about 40 or so years ago). As a child, I lived in Montreal in 1967 for a few months when my Dad worked in Expo 67! JT and I have been here many, many times while dating and as a married couple! It’s our little taste of Europe. In Québec, French is their primary language; people do speak English, but everything is French first!
We suggested the gang take a hop on hop off bus tour, which they did; it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. These tours are pretty pricey (~$48 pp) so JT and I opted out. First stop was lunch: http://www.jardinnelson.com/ we stumbled upon a fantastic inner courtyard at Jardin Nelson with a three piece jazz band! What a find. I had a real taste for a crèpe with béchamel sauce! We shared an order of Caprese salad (in season mini tomatoes and fresh bufalo Mozarrela) with a little pesto and balsamic, yum, yum, yum! And a wonderful spinach and ham crèpe. I find crépes are expensive in Canada, and this one was no different, around $16.
Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).
We reunited with the gang for cocktails at our hotel. The Nelligan (highly recommended) has an incredible roof top patio. I had a delicious vodka martini, straight up, very dry, no olives. I prefer mine stirred and not shaken ;-).
Dinner was our plan from the previous evening: Holder http://www.restaurantholder.com/
I had another caprese salad-I couldn’t help myself, and a very traditionally seasoned steak tartar. Very tasty indeed!
Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).
(I’m posting from my iPhone and the ap doesn’t allow me to re-order my photos, they post where they post!)
I added a few pics of the inside of the rock star bus.

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We left our campground in east Toronto around 9:30 am, a bit later than expected. Sleeping on the pull-out inflatable is really like camping… Ouch! Although the bus is decked out with the most incredible amenities, there is no where to put anything! Stepping over this and that to squeeze into… But I digress…

We stopped in Kingston for a bite and parked our trucks where we could. The Rock Star bus is towing the SUV, so driving any which way but forward is impossible. We pulled into a lot and the inevitable happened, we couldn’t get out without backing up! So we had to unhitch the truck and back up the bus, and rehitch the truck! Oh well, the one hour lunch turned into two!

Back on the road, we see the end is near… But … Wait for it… The bridge to the campground is out! You can’t get there from here! We had to detour back on the highway, go several Kilometres past the campground and come back on ourselves! We finally pull in, set up, and sit back and enjoy our first martini! Mmmmm! We had reservations in old Montreal which we’ve changed three times; I suggested that we scrounge the cupboards and make dinner on site instead of driving the thirty minutes to Montreal. Everyone jumped on it. We had sausages on the grill and beans (no vegetables!) and wine! We sat out at our camp fire and enjoyed the setting and our friends.

It really was an adventure, and I’m firmly decided that this type if camping (or any type, for that matter) is NOT for me! I am really going to enjoy the four star hotel with the king sized bed tonight in old Montreal!

Our friends are driving us into Montreal and they’ll do a bus tour while JT and I will explore on foot ourselves – maybe a little shopping too! And I need to eat a salad (salsa does not make up a food group!). We’ll meet up for dinner tonight.

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The second photo shows the boys ‘pulling’ the truck to line it up with the bus to re-hitch!

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We met up with our friends Paul and T, brother Bill and Jan from Illinois on Friday. This is the first leg of their 21 day journey to New Brunswick and the Easter seaboard. We’re tagging along with them to Montreal in their 35 foot motor home (the rock star bus). Bill and Jan have a 38 foot fifth wheel!
We had dinner down town at the Bier Markt a very nice gastro-pub down on Toronto’s Esplanade. I had a very nice, but pricey roasted beet salad, made of both golden and red beets, with a mixture of goats cheese and blue cheese fritter balls. Paul ordered a home made sausage appetizer sampler that looked amazing. T had asparagus and scallops.

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 2.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Last minute, we got a wonderful invite to Rae and Mon’s for a drink on our way to the trailer park! We loved the idea and stopped by!

We stayed overnight in a campground just east of the city, hoping it will give us a head start to our trip to Montreal. It kinda / sorta did. There are always issues, and hiccups, this morning (day) was no different.

What normally is a five hour trip, will likely be nine. We have reservations in the old town this evening for dinner.

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A hectic December made our visit to the Doran’s even more welcome than it usually is. The first thing we had to do was figure out how to keep the live Christmas tree watered while we were away. JT devised and ingenious watering system which worked like a charm (Brian, we will have our tree up for your visit next week!):

Christmas Tree Watering System Schematic

We flew with Porter to Midway Airport on Sunday December 26 and Paul and T met us at the airport to being our first leg of the journey downtown Chicago. I cannot say enough good things about Porter — what a fantastic flight experience! We stayed at the beautiful Kimpton Monaco Hotel for one night, our suite was lovely.

Our sweet suite at the Kimpton Monaco

We decided to walk to a Mexican Restaurant JT and I have been to many times. It took us about 10 minutes.

Su Casa Chicago Illinois

From there we found that lovely little French store I adore, it was nice to get out of the wind. Then for some serious shopping, Filene’s Basement, Nordstrom’s Rack (JT got a great coat), Loehman’s and the boys went for a beer at the pub across the road from our hotel.

The Kimpton hotels offer free wine from 5-6 every night, so of course, we had to partake! We then took off a bit early to have a cocktail at the bar at Shaw’s Restaurant.

Shaw's Bar

T and I shared our appi’s and mains to keep our consumption lower, Oysters Rockefeller and then the Grilled Seafood Platter, the boys had the Lobster Bisque, Paul had Surf and Turf, and JT had the seared Ahi Tuna! Everything was excellent, although my feet were frozen under the table!

We finished off the evening with a drink at the Oyster Bar and some live blues. It was an amazing evening.

The next day, we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant (complimentary continental) and then headed off to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was so crowded, it would have taken us over an hour to get our tickets, so we decided to pass. But we did have a gander at the store, where I bought Jack’s birthday present!

There were more than 500 people in line for tickets

We decided to head back to Yorkville with a pit stop to pick up Paul’s car (mice had chewed through $250 worth of wiring in their garage!) and a quick stop to see the Rock Star Bus — OMG it is one humongous bus! We unpacked in Yorkville at the comfortable home of Paul and T and had our customary cocktails before heading out for dinner.

Paul had to work the next day, so T took us to the outlet mall and a couple of stores. I lucked out at Nine West with my Ruby shoes, but not much else.

Ruby Shoes

T made and amazing dinner on Tuesday night and we may have had a bit of wine. Potato and Leak soup, roast pork with roasted sweet potatoes (with a balsamic glaze). YUM.

Wednesday got off to a late start for me, I was feeling a lot under the weather. T loaned us her car and we ran around Yorkville and Naperville a little bit. All in all a great day. JT and I made dinner, Roasted Celery Root soup and JT’s wonderful Chicken Cacciatore on penne pasta. Also very YUM. We were careful not to imbibe as our flight home was at 10am and we had to be out of the house by 7:30!

Thanks Paul and T, we really needed this diversion. Your support and friendship means a lot to us, particularly over the coming months.

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This is the second year we’ve taken a little holiday around our anniversary in New York City!

Leaving TO on our Porter flight!

Through Facebook, I find out Carmen will also be in NYC (shopping with some ladies) during the same time so we promise to text eachother and try to meet up!
Our flight with Porter was uneventful, other than the plane was bumpier than the larger jets seem to be. The staff was incredibly friendly; not the usual surly staff at AC!

Our trip in from Newark was not so smooth. Super Shuttle, not so super!

It started with where to wait; upon arrival I called to let them know that we’d arrived. They said to wait by the Customer Service Counter, which happened to be directly beside the phones. The driver will be there within twenty minutes; 30 minutes later we go looking arround. Woman at the CS counter tells us that SS pick ups are downstairs. Oh. We shuffle downstairs to the OTHER CS counter and I call to confirm. 20 minutes later we call again. Apparently, we were listed as a ‘no show’ because…guess where they tried to pick us up? Upstairs. Not happy. Finally they call our name. We are one of three couples in the van. We drive about a hundred yards and pick up couple #4. We drive again about 200 yards and pick up couple #5. We are now chuck full and 1.5 hours since we arrived. Finally we are on our way! The trip into Manhatten is faster than expected. Traffic in Manhatten is bad. We drive in through Lincoln Tunnel so we’re in lower Manhatten; this bodes well for us, our hotel is in the lower east side. We are the second couple to be dropped off. Two hours and fifteen minutes later! 😦

The Hotel on Rivington is a lovely young, trendy hotel. Our room is huge even by Toronto standards – about 15′ x 20′; even the bathroom is large! Two complaints: there is no dresser and the bathroom is rather dark. Other than that for $200/night, it’s a deal in NYC! I absolutely loved the location! Short walk to restaurants, bars, a Steve Madden outlet (nothing good in my size, even at 2 for $20!) and the subway.

Not much of a view, but it sure is quiet!

Lunch is at Cafe Frieda’s on the Upper East Side – I know, been there, done that—but it had to be done…again! The guacamole and the chicken soup are wonderful, as is the white wine sangria.
Cafe Frieda Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 3/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet)

Next was Loehman‘s, Filene’s Basement and my new favourite gourmet kitchen place: Zabar‘s! I bought a couple of things I could easily make into appi’s in our room!
We headed back to the hotel for a quick cocktail and got ready for our 8pm reservation at Tabla Restaurant on Madison Avenue!

Small Appi’s with our cocktails!

We had looked forward to Chef Cardoz’s fusion food for about a month to celebrate our 24rth wedding anniversary but was quite disappointed. We had the grilled calamari which was so scorched the little tentacles were possible to eat! Next was the chicken tikka which I found inedibley salty and last but not least was the saag paneer pizza – which would have been good except for the sand in the spinach and the paneer which tasted more like creme fraiche than paneer. Unfortunately not at all to our taste. When we mentioned the sandy spinach to the waiter, he did nothing. On a positive note, the ambiance was great and not noisy at all! JT gives me a gorgeous ring for our anniversary!
Tabla Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 3.5/5, Value 2.5/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet)

On the way back we stopped at Schiller‘s in our hood for a very noisy nightcap. Incidentally the exact same executive chefs az Balthazar’s! I would like to try this place for dinner sometime!

Cool wine list!

Day two got off to a late start because someone slept in! We tried to have breakfast at this cutie little crepe place but was closed, so we headed back to the hotel for some continental nosh. We are met by Melony who manages the hair salon next door. She is totally wild and invites us to have one of the Brooklyn bagels she just bought for a staff meeting! She introduces us to Carrie as ‘her friend’s from Toronto’. We can barely escape! THIS was our New York moment! She tells us about a great Peruvian Restaurant in the hood. We decide to try it for lunch.

But first: Century 21!

Shoe Success!

JT scores two pairs of shoes and I get one! I just love that place! It was just a little madhouse because we got there a little late! We had a coffee at Starbucks and while we were there got a text from Paul and T that they’ve arrived. Unfortunately they don’t heed our advice on Super Shuttle and they arrive to the hotel with much the same experiece as we had! They check in; their room is one that is pictured on the website, WOW! We walk to the Peruvian Place for lunch, Mancora. I had the seafood civeche and everyone else had the lunch specials (way too much food). I finished off JTs chicken soup – yum.
Mancora Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 4/5 (very Peruvian), service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 4/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet)

On the way back we find a very nice lounge Libation to have cocktails. The bartender was lovely (and I am sure the boys thought she was cute too); She sampled 5 vodkas for us! For free!
On the way back to the hotel I spot a Steve Madden outlet (right across the street from our hotel) shoes or boots are 2 for $20! No, really!!! Unfortunately, nothing in my size 😦

We had reservations at Balthasar. We were glad that our table was indeed ready (they are famous for over booking and making you wait), but it was not a great table, and it was noisy and a little rushed. I had the Steak Tartar, which was wonderful. Balthasar Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet). We called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

The next day we met around 9:00 so we could take advantage of the weather and walk through Central Park to the Boathouse Restaurant. Jill (Paul’s daughter who is going to Harvard for a post graduate degree) was in town visiting her beau, so we met them at the restaurant too. Unfortunately, it was raining, but we didn’t let it stop us, we walked across the park to the restaurant. We had a lovely brunch. The boys were then off to a ball game and we went shopping!

Brunch at the Boathouse with Jill and Arin

T and I hit Loehmans between 83 and 84rth; T scored a pair of walking shoes! I tried a pair of Rocket Dog workout walkers and decided that look wasn’t for me! I wanted to find an Aldo’s to pick up some incredibly high red shoes, so we subway to Rockafeller Centre and try to find it. After some reorientation, success! Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size 😦

Next, we walked to Macy‘s to try to meet up with my Facebook pal, Carmen. Walking through times Square is a mistake; sooo many people, it’s nuts! We stop at a Starbucks to renourish and Carmen texts that they are one the fifrth floor at Macy’s on 34rth.

Éva and Carmen @ Macy’s on 34rth!

Macy’s was also totally nuts – what recession? Though, no success at Macy’s!
Off to Union Square for some DSW and Filene’s Basement;

I scored another pair of shoes at DWS and a lovely shirt for JT and a cute sweater pour moi at Filene‘s! NOW, we are totally bushed! We subway back home!
The boy’s ball game is into overtime but they take off to meet us at our agreed spot for cocktails @ Libations; they ignore our text about rescheduling.
Our room hadn’t been made up yet so I call down to let them know. I jump into the shower to freshen up; T calls and we decide to meet the guys anyway! Holy fast getting ready! 15 minutes later, I meet T downstairs and we walk to Libations. Friday night, 5:30ish and the lower east side is already wild!

We have reservations at 7 at The Jazz Standard (thanks for the tip Antigone!) it was lovely! Dinner was scheduled for Il Buco at 9! We arrived on time, but our table wasn’t ready; they offer us a glass of Prosecco which was lovely! We are seated a short time later and it’s really wonderful! The sommelier reminds me of one of the waiters at Batifole in Toronto! We shared our orders: charcuterie plate and a small portion of freestyle lasagna – WOW! They aldo ordered dessert, some kind of gelato! Il Buco Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 4.5/5, service 4.5/5, food 4.5/5, Value 4.5/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet)!

The Jazz Standard

We plan to meet at 9am so we could get breakfast and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and explore DUMBO (Down Under Manhatten Bridge Underpass). We met at 9:30! I found a LES (Lower East Side) diner called Remedy Diner, it’s 24 hours so we don’t have to worry! We each order our own food which is a mistake — the portions are enormous and pretty good! Service is slow and coffee is seldom refilled! Remedy Diner Overall rating (in my opinion): decor 4.5/5, service 2/5, food 3.5/5, Value 4.5/5, Noise: 1/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being quiet)

Remedy Diner

We head over to the subway to get to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge (Chambers street exit). The walk is a bit chilly but it’s beautiful and lots of people; I certainly wouldn’t want to do this later in the day, way too crowded! My iPhone died after I took this photo, not enough juice! The walk around DUMBO was very cool. We stopped in a deli for a coffee, very cool! I’d like to spend an afternoon here sometime soon! We walked along the Hudson River enjoying the New York City skyline — until the wind pushed us away! We headed back to the subway because we had to check out for our return trip! Next time I’d like to subway to DUMBO and walk back to Manhattan to enjoy the skyline!
After a bit of charging, my phone went back to normal, thank goodness!

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We drove to Ottawa for a little R&R for the long weekend. It was anything but R&R! Lot’s of walking…so much walking. But it does keep the intake in check. And ‘in-take’ we did!!!

This was our adventure (Paul and T, we’ve already spec’d out a bunch of things to do when we do this trip!!!!)

Arrive noonish, drag our luggage into the hotel, the Indigo. Hotel room not ready. Drag luggage back to car. Head out to Ahora a Mexican Restaurant in Byward Market for lunch. Canada doesn’t have a lot of Mexican restaurants, so when we read about this one, we got excited! Not so much. Ahora: Overall rating: Decor 2/5, service 1/5, food 2/5 and Value 2/5.

Hotel calls, room is ready. So we drive back, drag the luggage back in and I check in while JT parks the car. 2nd floor room, facing the street (nice view), king bed, bathtub AND shower (check in lady mentions that this is a big deal!). Room next door to a family with three children. One screams at the top of their lungs. Not much sound insulation. Without even looking at me JT marches downstairs to change rooms. Bit of a hassle, but they finally find a room. Child screams 3 more times as I wait in the room. Teeth grinding. We chose this hotel because they tout is as a boutique hotel. Not so much. I would call it boutiqu-ISH, ISH being the operative. Cheap finishings, poorly insulated for sound AND it’s connected to the Mariotte which has a POOL. This place has FAMILY written all over it. Now I have no problems with families taking their kids on a hotel adventure, I just wasn’t expecting to be included – not really even having met them!

Hotel Ingigo Room 212

New room doesn’t have a view or a bathtub (only shower) but we seem to be the only guests on this side of the hotel, and it has a bed (it’s Valentine’s day after all!). It’s ultra QUIET. I am happy. Hotel Indigo Overall rating: Decor 2/5, service 3/5, Value 2/5.

We unpack and took a 25 minute cab ride (should have been 10 – Ottawa has traffic jams on Saturday????) to the Royal Canadian Mint. WOW! Wish it was running (they don’t work on weekends). They made all of the Olympic Medals, how cool is that? Each medal is completely and utterly unique, no two are alike! View this little video about Making the medals

Royal Canadian Mint, the Olympic Medals

Then we walked back to the hotel for cocktails! The walk wasn’t too bad, about 15 minutes and we were very fortunate that it wasn’t too cold (Ottawa can be as cold as -20° C in the winter!). There was a bit of wind, but we were shielded by the buildings! Along the way, we spec’d out our breakfast for the next day at Moulin de Provence. And we discovered that next time we’re in Ottawa, we will be staying on the Market side of the Canal!

Moulin de Provence

We had dinner at Restaurant Eighteen, also on the other side of the Canal!. They tried to seat us in a ‘private’ area which would have been amazing had their not been a family with 4-6 ill mannered rug rats (what is it with kids on this weekend?). So we sat more in the front, which was nice to be where the action is! I had 6 BC Kusshi Oysters (not as tasty as the PEI oysters, in my humble opinion) and the steak tartar (with a quale’s egg) and JT had the Caesar Salad and their braised veal special. Don’t get me wrong, everything was fine, just not exceptional! Restaurant Eighteen Overall rating: Decor 4/5, service 3/5, food 3.5/5 and Value 3/5.

On our way back JT had previously spec’d out a bar that had live jazz and no cover at Zoe’s Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel, so we stopped in for a nightcap! It was lovely! We walked back to the hotel enjoying some of the Winterlude festivities.

Winterlude

Valentine’s morning we exchanged gifts. JT gave me some lovely perfume and I gave him a couple of CDs (Matt Dusk’s new CD and Michael Bublé’s new CD). JT also gave me a very touching card (I didn’t buy him a card – that was thoughtless!)

We walked to Byward Market for breakfast at Moulin de Province. We shared a ham and cheese crepe with bechamel sauce, bacon and potatoes and a chocolate baguette, we each had a unbelievably hot (Kim, you would have LOVED it) café latté – YUM YUM YUM!

After breakfast we drove to the Diefenbunker Museum, Canada’s Cold War Museum. I had no idea! Our PM Diefenbaker had a 20 million dollar, 10,000 square foot, four story underground bunker built in 1961-62 to hold 500 government personelle in case of a Nuclear War. Fortunately, it was never used, but we came pretty darn close a few times (kinda creepy HOW close we did come!)

Diefenbunker Museum Door

It was way past lunch time by the time we finished our tour (partly guided and party self guided) so we headed back to the Market. We selected another dud for lunch, The Fish Market. We shared the Luncheon Maritime Platter of over cooked rubbery lobster, ice cold drawn butter, skinny little crab legs, mini jumbo shrimp (also cooked to a rubbery texture) mushrooms stuffed with bread and crab crumbs etc, Not worth it at all. We ordered a 1/2L of wine and the waiter gave us a full litre and didn’t even charge! At least we were in a good mood from the vino!!! Cheesy décor just added to the short comings.  The Fish Market Overall rating: Decor 1/5, service 2/5, food .5/5 and Value -1/5. We should have stuck to our first thought, fish and chips (how can you go wrong with deep fried fish???)

We walked around the market. JT spotted an amazing little shop called Belle de Provence where I may have done a little shopping ;-). We also found a great little Asian store where I picked up some Goji Berries and dried Cremini Mushrooms (I have a weird idea of souvenirs!). We walked through Winterlude to enjoy the ice sculptures and enjoyed a little Snow Taffy! See the full gallery here.

Dinner on Valentine’s Day was at Play (recommended by a Facebook friend, Edward Pond, a Toronto photographer specializing in food). We had an EXCEPTIONAL experience. We shared two items, the waiter, Patrick was amazing (he’s in TO this weekend to see the Raptors at the ACC so we gave him some restaurants to try). We started with the mixed  charcuterie plate which was a lot of food, then we shared the mushroom blue cheese fritters / onion / grilled swiss chard – both were delicious and filling. Patrick brought us a dessert (on him) banana fritters / cardamon anglaise / chocolate sauce. A fantastic meal, only enhanced by the service! Good job guys. I filled out the comment card and the owner responded with an email: “I just wanted to thank you for dining with us at Play recently and for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.  I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the service and your meal so much and I have passed along your compliments to the team.” How nice. Play Overall rating: Decor 4/5, service 5/5, food 5/5 and Value 5/5.

Monday morning we finally skated on the Rideau Canal. It was surprisingly smooth (they apparently flood it every night) and fortunately, not crowded or too cold – although there was a bitter wind which cut out skate down to 2 km!

Skating on the Rideau Monday Morning

Breakfast was at a really cool diner in the Market called Zak‘s. We didn’t share, but should have! LOVE their motto – Zak’s Don’t Starve! 

Breakfast at Zak's

I had a cheese omlette and JT had Zak’s Famous Big Breakfast and I had Zak’s Special Omlette. We both had the marble rye toast, I only got through half my breakfast and only one toast (HUGE).  Zak’s Overall rating: Decor 4/5, service 3/5, food 4/5 and Value 4/5.

Cheese Omlette at Zak's

Zak's Special Omelette

On the drive back we stopped in to see my 3rd cousin Laura in Belleville. She and I used to be pen pals when we were kids (she is my mom’s second cousin on her father’s side). It was great to meet her four kids (3 adults in University)! All in all a lovely long weekend. I would definitely recommend Ottawa.

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Note that the majority of these photos are taken on my bran-spankin’ new iPhone!!!

Niagara Falls in winter

On December 29th we drove down to Niagara Falls for a couple of days of R&R (click here for photo album). We stopped off in Jordan to one of our favourite little shops Beauty Safari to pick up JTs favourite cologne. Then we headed out to Port Dalhousie for lunch at one of our old favourites, Treadwells – a wonderful farm to table restaurant. Front of the house is mastered by Sommelier James Treadwell and the back of the house is by his father, Chef Stephen Treadwell. Food was amazing, as usual. The lovely thing about this visit was that James recalled our last visit with the Doran’s from Illinois AND that JT loves the Viongier grape. I had the Hoisin Glazed Pulled Pork Shoulder on “Fred’s” Brioche Bun with Asian Slaw (actually, only half, JT had the other half) and JT had the Housemade Tagliatelle “alla Carbonara” with Double Smoked Bacon and “Pingue’s” Free Range Egg. Food was wonderful.

We stopped at Henry of Pelham winery to pick up some old favourites. And the trip wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t stop at Picard’s Peanuts for some snacks!

En route we stopped in Niagara on the Lake and walked around a bit. Of course, 4 o’clock rolled along and we stopped at the Prince of Wales bar for cocktails.

Cocktails at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara on the Lake

Cocktails at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara on the Lake

We then proceeded to Niagara Falls to our newest boutique hotel fav – The Sterling Inn, an old converted dairy. They messed up our reservation due to an inconsistency with the web, so they kindly upgraded us to a suite. How sweet is that? Two rooms, a bathtub that could house 10, and a shower for 6! Wow.  We had dinner reservations at AG (silver in the periodic table of elements!). Another stellar meal. I started with the Truffled Jerusalem Artichoke veloute (which is a creamed soup with little to no cream!), JT had green salad. For mains, I had an appi portion flank steak and JT had the venison. All were wonderful. Service was also excellent. This is by far the best restaurant in the Niagara Falls area.

The fireplace in our suite

Cocktails

Day 2: we had a reasonably early start down to Buffalo for some shopping and of course, wings at the Anchor Bar (famous for developing Buffalo wings).

Anchor Bar, Buffalo New York

We shopped at some premium outlets, which were OK. Not much shopping to be had, believe it or not — even the board guard was surprised! Oh well, maybe next time. We returned to our hotel to do some walking around Niagara Falls.

The highlight of the walking around was the SkyWheel, which was reasonably priced at $9.98 per person! Afterward we hopped in the car to explore the festival of lights, but unfortunately, everyone else in the world had the same idea so the lineup into the drive was ridiculous, so we passed. Dinner was at The Keg; we had appi’s and wine.

The SkyWheel

JT in the SkyWheel

Eva in the SkyWheel

View of the falls from the SkyWheel

The next day we checked out and drove to Inniskillin winery and had lunch at Tony DeLucca’s Old Winery restaurant. We both had one of the stone oven pizza’s which were delicious (I had the Jimmy Hendrix and JT had the Jerry Garcia)! Then we headed home for new year’s eve!

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We made our traditional trek up to my brother Gus’s cottage at Lake Rosseau. Last year JT went golfing, this year it snowed!

Snowing across Lake Rosseau Oct 11, 2009

Sudden snow storm across the lake.

Eva, Jack and Annie

Of course, I am bundled up like a snowman, and the kids barely have a sweater on! It was quite chilly, no really!

Afternoon walk, lake Rosseau

A nice afternoon walk. No, we didn’t bump into Martin Short, but I think he was there – his gate was open!

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As an add-on to last night’s post: On the front lawn I put out all the decent sized lumber pieces left over from our project (minimum size 3′ maximum size 5′) hoping that someone with a smaller project would pick them up. Well, during cocktails, a guy pulled up in his sedan and did just that; and then he came back and picked up MOST of our lumber from our previous deck!!! I am SO GLAD. Both JT and I had concerns that Billy would have to make several trips (and that just means more $$$$ for us!). I just LOVE that this guy thought our lumber was good enough to reuse (he actually asked if he could and he mentioned he had a cabin up north that he was building, so the lumber was great for him!).

By the way,  it did rain last night.

Trip #6 to The Depot and oh, look…rain!

Weather July2

We only had to build the steps today, so we were done by 11am! Check out the finished Steps:

The Finished Steps

The Finished Steps

The new view from the living room:

The Room with the View

The Room with the View

And finally, the finished deck:

The FInished Deck

The FInished Deck

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Weather July 1

Today is Canada Day, therefore everthing is closed (thank goodness we stocked up from The Depot, the LCBO and Metro!).  We got off to a great start and skirted the back of the deck. By 12:30ish we had the arbour up and capped. Lunch was a tasty wrap and a tower of tomatoes and buffalo mozarella….YUM.

Wraps with Tomato and Buffalo Mozerella Tower

Wraps with Tomato and Buffalo Mozerella Tower

Although the weather forecast called for rain, we didn’t get any! YIPEEEEEE. We worked like crazy to get the top box finished for the steps from the living room and by the end of the day, JT was skirting behind the BBQ and I was cleaning up.

The deck is done, but the steps to the patio still need to be done, and you know what that means…Trip #6 to The Depot tomorrow morning!

The Cocktail Lounge Arbour

The Cocktail Lounge Arbour

The Cocktail Lounge

The Cocktail Lounge

The Reclaimed Dining Area

The Reclaimed Dining Area

Cocktails with Hungarian Cheese Sticks (my Aunte Agi’s recipe) will be served promptly at 5:30 on the New, Mother of All Mothers, Cocktail Lounge (furniture is TBD, we will use this in the meantime). Shortly thereafter, dinner will be served de plein air (as they say) in the newly reclaimed dining area! Cheers!

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Weather June 30

The morning started out to be quite sunny. But clouds did manage to float in and we had a few minor showers, which didn’t stop us from working.

We got most of the uprights put up, ready for the lattice and we got the bottom box made for the steps from the sliding doors off the living room. The we broke for lunch.

Build Day 5 - the rain continues

Build Day 5 - the rain continues

During lunch, the skies opened up again and poured like there was no tomorrow. We decided to make our 5th trip to The Depot to pick up a few things. My bet was 4 JTs 5.

By the time we got home it was after 2pm and still raining, so we had to call it a day because tonight we are picking up our new Diesel Jetta and trading in the poor old buglette. Unfortunately, it is directly in cocktail hour. Cheers, anyway!

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

The New Diesel Jetta

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Weather June 29

Paul and T are on vacation and they are in Hawaii. What the heck was I thinking that on MY vacation I would build a deck? There is not one muscle in my whole entire being that is not screeming and writhing with pain. Hawaii? Pain? Hawaii? Pain? Oh ma goh!

Today we got off to another good start: Trip #4 to The Depot. We ran out of screws (we have already used 300 and need another 300, or so!) and step stringers. Thank goodness for the drill with a screwdriver bit, otherwise I think I would have thrown myself onto a large sword by now!

We got on a roll and finished the decking by 1pm, at which time, we broke for lunch. During lunch loud, cracking thunder. I look up and the skies are black. We ran to get everthing in the garage, but just before I was able to grab the tray of food, the skies opened up and buckets of water poured down. Rain like no other. Then hail. It lasted about 10 minutes and then petered out to a light rain.

Sunny One Minute to Teaming Rain the Next

Sunny One Minute to Teaming Rain the Next

It rained pretty much the entire afternoon, but we managed to skirt the deck and get the stringers strung. Lowes sent the wrong deck boards for the steps so, guess what? Yep, another trip to The Depot!

Day 4 Deck Skirt

Day 4 Deck Skirt

We’re also trying to figure out the steps from the sliding doors; they will be very tricky because the gas line for the BBQ comes our directly where the first step up is. We’ll figure it out. Here is a rendering.

Concept for Steps from Sliding Doors

Concept for Steps from Sliding Doors

And it’s that time of the afternoon again, yes, it is cocktail hour. Cheers!

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Build Day 2 Weather

Build Day 2 Weather

We started off OK at 9ish, but very overcast. We made a rookie error which cost about an hour and $20 but really 5.5 hours because it started teaming rain! And, of course, Trip #3 to Home Depot.

Mother Nature Hates Us

Mother Nature Hates Us

Rain, rain and more rain. At around 2:30 the rain stopped and we immediately got back into it.

We did well, but time, energy and screws ran out (the wood kind, get your mind out of the gutter). Here is our progress today:

6:30pm Progress

6:30pm Progress

Weather permitting, we should be able to have cocktails on the new deck tomorrow! Cheers!

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I am just getting too old for this type of sillyness! OHHHH my aching back.

To say Build Day 2 got off to a slow start is an understatement. Not for a lack to trying. One challenge after another. I won’t bore you with them, but suffice to say that we made our 2nd run to The Depot by 10am. JT bets 5 by the end of the build, I’m hoping for far less, but we already have the list for the next one (dare I guess 4???)

Here we are at 1pm…see what I mean about slow start?

Build Day 1 at 1pm

Build Day 2 at 1pm

We got the old fence post cut (by hand), some more demo, I moved 9 cement blocks into position, blah blah blah blah blah!

But eventually and fortunately, we got on a bit of a roll, and by 5pm we had the base box accomplished (plus dug an extra post for support).

Build Day 1 at 5pm

Build Day 2 at 5pm

Hopefully Build Day 3 will be smoother. For some god forsaken reason, both JT and I have this inhumane urge to finish quickly, even though I have the entire week off. Cocktails anyone?

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We decided to get as much pre deck work done during the week as possible to allow for concentrated deck building during my time off.

Tuesday June 23 – Demo Day 1 (actually it was evening): Remove overgrown shrubs. Now THAT is manual labour. The root ball of one overgrown evergreen shrub was intensely embedded into the earth. On the plus side, we are quite fortunate that our soil is actually sand so digging isn’t that difficult!

Demo Day 1 - Remove Overgrown Shrubs

Demo Day 1 - Remove Overgrown Shrubs

Demo Day 1 - Shrub Removal

Demo Day 1 - Shrub Removal

JT did all of the demo himself during the day. It was horrible mainly because the deck was solidly built, but the temperature was absurd +30°C with high humidity. UGH!

Demo Day 1

Demo Day 2

Wednesday June 24 – Demo Day 2: I couldn’t believe what difference removing the pickets could make from looking out the living room doors — we could actually see our beautiful garden!

Demo'd

Demo'd

Jt brought the deck down in record time!

Demo Day 3

Demo Day 3

The space we gained was incredible!

Friday June 26 – Demo Day 4: JT spent removing debree so we would have space to work. That entire pile made its way to the driveway. All the new lumber which was delivered to our side yard on Thursday morning was moved into the garage to keep it safe and dry! Thanks JT, that was not the fun part!

The New Post

The New Post

Friday June 26 Evening – Build Day 1: Building a deck onto an old house does not come without its challenges. We designed the deck with a large ‘arbour’ covering our neighbour’s brick wall (see photo above). For this we planned to sink four 6″ x 6″ posts (trying to keep consistent with the existing arbour) — no-can-do! It would seem that 3 out of the four existing fence posts are directly, exactly, couldn’t be more exact space where we wanted our new posts. In cement. Did I happen to mention that the existing posts were cemented into the same exact location where we wanted our new posts! UGH! (I may be saying that and perhaps a few choice words over the next week!).

Back to the drawing board, literally! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I had planned to use my brawn over the week, wanted to turn brain off….

We came up with a plan. We will retrofit the existing posts to make them ‘look’ like 6″ x 6″‘s – Obstacle 1 averted.

Unfortunately, post #2 was in the wrong place and fortunately, there was enough space to the right of it to dig a proper hole to sink another 4″ x 4″ so that we can have equal space for our lattice ‘arbour”.

And that is what we did Friday night. Of course, cockails thereafter!

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When we decided to add onto our kitchen, we knew we had to give up our lovely cocktail deck JT and I built about a year or two after we moved into our home. But we had bigger plans! A new, bigger, better cocktail lounge to replace a semi useless, puney little deck off the living room! The mother of all mother cocktail lounges!

We had planned to put on this new and improved deck during the reno, but because of timing and such, we were were not able to then. We decided it was time, so I am taking a week off to help my husband build a deck. Believe it or not, I love this type of manual labour, blue job or not! A few photos for a general time line:

Pre Cocktail Area 2001

Pre Cocktail Area 2001 at the time we purchased the home

Cocktail Area Before Reno

Cocktail Area Before Reno around 2002-3

Cocktail Area During Reno

Cocktail Area During Reno 2007

Old Cocktail Area after addition

Cocktail Area after the Reno 2008

Site of the Upcoming Mother of all Cocktail Lounges

Site of the Upcoming Mother of all Cocktail Lounges

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Last week we celebrated our wedding anniversary in the Big Apple and it was lovely. We drove to Buffalo Tuesday morning and caught a very inexpensive flight to JFK ($270 Can for the two of us). The weather was amazing mid to high 20°C (which was a bit warm). We arrived on Tuesday May 19 (which is our anniversary) around noonish and found a great Mexican restaurant for lunch – Cafe Frida (Photo from their website). They made the most excellent guacamole and home made chips. I had the Mexican Chicken soup and JT had soft torillas with pulled pork (or maybe chicken!). Both were amazing.

Café Frida

Café Frida

Guacamole Presentation

Guacamole Presentation

Our apartment was on the upper west side (on 81st between Amerstdam and Broadway) and it was actually someone’s apartment who rents it out when they are traveling. It was really strange because they didn’t even move their personal belongings out of the way. When we mentioned it to our friends Marla and Claude (Marla is a New Yorker) they said that it was quite normal). The actual place could have been nicer, but the bed was a king and very comfortable (brand new apparently), and it was clean. It was nice to be in a more residential area, but we did discover that everything we did was downtown, so we’ll not be coming back!

200 West 81st Apartment

200 West 81st Apartment

We did quite a bit of walking around town after lunch, wasting time to get back to the apartment so the cleaners would be done!

Times Square

Times Square

Our anniversary evening JT booked Jazz at Lincoln Center where we enjoyed Bill Charlap Trio with Peter Washington and Kenny Washington. The music was OK (the last time we were here with Geo, the group was a bit more upbeat). We had Sizzling Artichke and Spinach Dip with Crisp Pita Chips (baked not fried!) and the Artisnal Cheese Plate (which was disappointing, since there were only two types of cheese on it).

After dinner we went back to our hood and had some drinks at McAleer’s “Irish” Pub (it was more of a sports bar than Irish Pub – but the drinks were good).

McAleer's Pub

McAleer’s Pub

The upper west side is a the cool residential side of NYC (upper east side is the hoydy-toydy side with the splendid brownstones and the upper crust). Young families live in the upper west side so there are lots of cool restaurants and shops. The one shop in particular we stumbled upon (mainly because JT noticed that our apartment had some olive oil in the shops brand – no we didn’t try it, ick!) Zabar’s is a gourmet cheese shop, grocery store and kitchen store all in one. They stock almost everything from really expensive espresso makers to copper pots from France – and the food selection was amazing! I would recommend a trip to this shop if in NYC. We bought breakfast goodies on Thursday to have in the park!

On Wednesday morning we went for breakfast at JK and Sons, a local diner (poached egg on toast), and then we ventured up to Central Park to rent bicycles. We rented for 3 hours (which turned into about 3 laps around the park and a wicked sunburn!) The park was PACKED – doesn’t anyone work?

Biking in Central Park

Biking in Central Park

Lake in Central Park

Lake in Central Park

We returned the bikes and walked up to Rue 57 a French restaurant we discovered once a few years ago with Paul and T. I had a warm mushroom salad with shaved parmesan and JT had the Tuna Nicoise Salad (which was enough to feed about 3 people!!!). It was hussle and bussle loud, New York French! We continued to walk around the town (boy it was hot!). We found Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery (we bought a small bread for breakfast in Central Park) – Jim Lahey is famous for his no knead bread!

Sullivan Street Bakery

Sullivan Street Bakery

Wednesday evening was our night at Susur Lee’s new restaurant Shang. The restaurant is lovely. Our waitress was a woman from Toronto, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as JT and I. She recommended 3-5 courses which are sharing courses. We had 4 but could have done with 3 – they weren’t huge portions, but enough for two! The chef decides what order to bring out the food. We first had the Singapore Slaw with Salted Plum Dressing (delicious! of course, I will say that about the entire meal). Then shortly after, our waitress brought out the Lobster Lettuce Wrap with Lemon Balm, Shallot, Chili Lime Juice – which was fantastic, unbelievably delicious! The third course was the Fresh Ground Coconut Curry, Cauliflower, Lentils, Potato, and Stewed Fruits – really reall rich, but very tastey. And last but not least we had the Caramelized Wild Sablefish, Mustard Green Relish, Miso Mustard and Salmon Caviar which was the weakest of all the four, and frankly could have done without. Tastey but not as tastey as the others. No room for dessert. Highly recommend this place.

Thursday was shopping day and after our bread and cheese breakfast in Central Park, we split up. JT went to a custom packaging show in the morning and I shopped and shopped. First stop was Daffy’s at Broadway and 57th, then a quick subway ride down to another Daffy’s at Madison and 44th, then off to meet up with JT at Filene’s Basement (which is in chapter 11, sadly) at Union Square. I also hit DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse in the same place). Lunch was a salad from a grocery store nearby and JT had Sushi at Union Square Park (we had a hard time finding a seat, it was so crowded). After lunch and an iced coffee at Starbucks, we headed down to Century 21 (no trip to NYC would be complete without a trip to Century 21!). It was exhausting, and sadly, not so fruitful! We’ll have to go back to finish off! JT spent some time taking in some sites.

Former World Trade Centre

We subwayed back to the apartment just in time to get ready for dinner with Claude and Marla at Balthazar’s (JT knows Claude from business and he now lives on Long Island with his wife Marla).

Dinner at Balthazar’s consisted of garlic butter escargo and steak tartar (for me) and JT had the creamed avocado soup and Fresh Tuna Nicoise. It was an experience; it is a very French restaurant – all the wait staff spoke English and French! We stopped off for a nightcap at a local Italian Restaurant.

Thursday Night Nightcap

Thursday Night Nightcap

Friday morning was breakfast at McDonalds – egg mc muffins (Balthazar’s was very expensive – over $200US for the two of us!) so we wanted cheap! A quick ride on the subway (yes, you guessed it, downtown) we went to a new find (thanks to Marla) called Loehmann’s. Loehmann’s is a much more civilized version of Century 21, really good bargains too. Did a bit of shopping but not much. We had to check out at noon because the apartment was booked for the next people, so we taxied it to JFK airport. All taxies seem to have little TVs:

Taxi TV

Taxi TV

We ate lunch at JFK at Deep Blue Sushi not bad for an airport restaurant! We shared a Pad Thai and wine, of course!

The drive back to Toronto was relatively uneventful, with the exception that we were stuck at the boarder for an hour – just volume, it was the American’s Memorial Day long weekend! Oh, we got 2 1.14 litres of Smirnoff Tripple Distilled Vodka for $25 – the deal of the century!

I am dieting for 2 weeks, no booze – period.

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I’ve been very bad blogging lately. We’ve been swamped at work and I guess I haven’t felt like spending any more time than I had to on my computer at home.

Check out the photos from our weekend away!

Paul and T on the hiking trail at Starved Rock

Paul and T on the hiking trail at Starved Rock

We drove down to Paul and T’s for the Easter Weekend. It was lovely. We rented another Camry Hybrid (about $85 of gas for both ways!!!) – granted it’s not the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen, but it gets unbelievable fuel efficiency and that, above all, tips it to ‘way cool’ in my books!

We had by far one of the worst boarder experiences going into the states. The Guard in our queue took about 5-8 minutes per car, compared to the other queues which were 2-3 minutes per car (add it up, 10 cars at even 6 minutes each is 60 minutes, waiting in line). And it’s not as if he was asking more detailed questions…he was just taking his sweet time with EVERY car , making a call, chatting it up with the other guard etc. Apparently we are not allowed to bring apples (2 apples as a snack) into the US – which were US apples to begin with – confiscated the apples, and then made a show of sashaying to the garbage bin which was at the front of the little guard building, opening the garbage can lid, looking back at us to make sure we see he is tossing the apples and then sashaying back. UGH. It really was terrible. We were at the crossing for one and a half hours in total. Brutal.

We had a lovely time in Chicagoland (yup, that is what they call it!). They are about 2 weeks ahead of us seasonally, so their buds and blooms were in full swing…really gave me something to look forward to.

We shopped well, ate well and drank AND we went for a very cool hike in Starved Rock State Park. WOW. What a beautiful park. We were just going to drive down and check out the lodge and head back for the Masters, but when we started walking, we just couldn’t stop. The scenery was spectacular and the paths were so easy to walk (there were lots of board walks – which was great because I had my cowboy boots on and they weren’t perfect for real hiking – gimme a break, we were just going to drive up and walk in the lodge!!!) We ended up being out for about 3 hours. Poor Paul had to TiVO the masters. We had lunch at the lodge bar  which was just OK (it was Easter Sunday so the restaurant had a brunch).

Stay tuned for some recipes – we’re having Kim and Rob and Chloé for dinner on Saturday so I get to cook!

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JT surprised me with a short weekend to Ontario’s wine country. We stayed at Sterling Inn (which I would recommend). The only draw-back would be that it is a bit out of the way with no view of the falls (we’ve stayed at most of the major towers and have had spectacular views of the falls). But it is a boutique hotel, with a fantastic restaurant and nicely decorated rooms (our’s had a steam shower – about 5 feet by 10 feet – it was HUGE!). It also has a spa within the hotel, which makes travel to and fro quite comfy even in winter. It snowed lightly on Saturday night, while we drove around to see the Festival of Lights!

On Saturday we toured wine country and picked up a couple of dozen bottles of wine and this very cute gadget which I will be previewing upon Paul and T’s visit (hopefully on the 5th!). On Sunday we each had a massage…very romantic weekend!

room2 fireplace1 sitting-area1

bathroom11 bathroom21

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