Friday, August 31, 2012

Halal Hot Dog From the Crazy Greek Street Vendor

It was SP's most anticipated day of vacation, and my least anticipated: going to Canada's Wonderland, an amusement park about 40 minutes north of Toronto. Remember, SP loves roller coasters. I used to like them, but since I can no longer ride amusement park rides, I have no interest in going. It's pretty boring to spend 8+ hours just sitting there, people watching and maybe feeling hot and sweaty if it's that kind of day.

I go to make SP happy. He was like a kid in a candy shop. He was pointing out rides, telling me all about them, bouncing with joy, using coaster jargon (I need to get with the program - it was like he was speaking in another language). It was a beautiful day. Sunny, slight breeze, low 80's. Prior to going, I joked about taking a book to read, but then I decided not to take a book, or newspaper, or my puzzle book. How boring could it be? Huge mistake. I should have taken all three.

My personal roller coaster park expert told me that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the best days to go because they were the least crowded. Uh huh. If this was a light day, I want nothing to do with a crowded day.

My discounted ticket (because I am in a wheelchair) cost $45. SP's advance online ticket purchase cost him $50. Huge discounts. When he saw how crowded it was, he asked about a Fast Pass. Apparently, this park has a different Fast Pass system than Disney when I was there. This park charges $60 for one Fast Pass wristband. He didn't buy one. That seemed pretty pricey.

Don't forget the $15 to park in their parking lot. Because nothing at a park can be free. Except for using the bathrooms.

We found me a quiet-ish, somewhat shaded spot and he zipped off to ride a coaster he had never before ridden! Whoo! Yay! Excitement! I saw him an hour later. I was bonkers because just sitting there is so monotonous, so boring, so absolutely frigging mind numbing. I knew I was in for a bad day. Especially when we saw the food costs.
 For a hot dog!!!!!
He always tries to make going to the amusement park sound fun for me by promising funnel cake, but $11 for funnel cake???????

I know food in a park is pricey, but to me, that was exorbitant. Way pricier than Disney, and I didn't think anyone could be pricier than Disney.

I was kinda annoyed. I was glad the park let you take your own bottled water in, so we were set with drinks, but... It was going to be so hard to actually fork over nearly $8 for a hot dog or $11 for a funnel cake.

So here's the brand new ride, just opened this year, whoo! Yay! Excitement!
 Look at that great drop off! Whoo! Yay! Awesome!
 OK, I'll see you in 1.5~2 hours. Bye.
We were there from a bit before noon until a bit after 8 pm. Maybe 8.5 hours total. He rode 6 times. Every ride, even the 2 non-coasters he rode, had about an hour wait. His last ride on Leviathan took 1.75 hours.

It took 45 minutes to get a Subway sub for lunch. A 6 inch sub that cost $7. If you wanted turkey instead of ham, it was another $2. If you wanted a slice of bacon on a 6 inch sub, it was another $1.50.

I am calling it a rip off. If you look at what we paid for admission and parking, factor in that I can't ride anything, just him, and he could only fit in 6 rides because of the lines, we paid something like $18.33/ride.

My Subway only tasted good because I was so hungry. My funnel cake with strawberries was just OK. The strawberry sauce made the bottom of the funnel cake soggy, so that was disappointing.

We left before it was completely dark, drove back to our hotel, and decided to grab a hot dog from one of the street hot dog vendors on the sidewalk right outside our hotel. There were 3-4 of them. We picked this one simply because the line was shortest.
I don't know what we walked into, but the hot dog man was having a very heated conversation with a (presumably) Muslim man about whether or not his hot dogs are truly halal while a (presumably) Muslim woman stood off to the side. I don't know what the problem was, I don't know if they thought the man didn't truly have halal hot dogs, I don't know if they had differing definitions of halal, I don't know if they wanted to know if every offering was halal, I don't know if they wanted the story of the hot dog's origin to verify if it was halal, but it got pretty animated and heated. "I know halal! I know halal! My hot dog is halal!" "Why can't you just answer her question?!" "I know halal! It is halal!"
I have no idea if they ever bought a halal beef hot dog, or any other tubular meat. SP got in & out quickly, squirting mustard on his chicken dog and on my halal beef dog, and we inched our way safely down the street. As we were inching out of the line of fire, another man started talking with the vendor about the halal hot dog incident. The vendor asked where he was from and what he did. The man said he was an accountant and from Pakistan. He asked the vendor where he was from, which is how we learned he was Greek. The accountant made some comment that the Greek could get more business if he used more honey to catch flies, or something like that, and another animated conversation ensued. Yikes!
The dogs. Huge. Tasty. Good bun. The hot dog was large enough to fill the bun - I dislike when the hot dog is short and there's just boring bun on the ends. Spicy but not too spicy mustard. We ended up going back to the stand and adding some sliced green olives. I never would have thought to put green olives on a hot dog, but when you're really tired, really annoyed after a crappy day, and too hungry to think straight, it sounded like a good idea. It was. Even though it was 9:30 at night and the hot dog and olives kind of sat in my stomach all night long.

The cost for 2 large hot dogs on tasty buns with mustard and green olives and obtained in about 2 minutes? $7. Less than one hot dog at Canada's Wonder-Where-All-Your-Money-Went-Land. And in less time than at the rip off park.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dinosaurs, Hockey, and a Castle

There was so much to do in Toronto! We had no problems filling our days.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is a very architecturally interesting building and in addition to terrific permanent exhibits, they currently have a special Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit on a basement level.
It is fantastic! So well done! We spent 2-3 hours just on the dinosaur exhibit.
 It features a lot of lesser known dinosaurs, dinosaurs just unearthed in the last 20 years,
There's a lot of interactive displays. So much to look at, so much information. It really took you back in time. I cannot say enough how fabulous this exhibit was.

We like dinosaurs. We also like hockey. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto and it was a short walk from our hotel.
My favorite part was the helmet display (much as my favorite part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was all the helmets over time). Of course the Pittsburgh stuff was of special interest (and, OK, NJ Devils for one of us!).
Lots of Lemieux, lots of Crosby, lots of Canada team stuff, Canadian Olympics, etc. And of course, this:
We also like to wonder what kind of home we would build if ever we win the lottery, and I got a lot of great ideas at Casa Loma:
A Canadian Castle built in 1911 by Sir Henry Pellatt and costing him $3.5 million. Sadly, despite amassing a fortune as a businessman, he eventually lost his fortune, lost Casa Loma, sold off many possessions at a fraction of their cost, and died penniless.
But what a splendid, luxurious life when things were going well! The woodwork is stunning. The gardens are beautiful. The audio tour was well done, lots of interesting information.
Can you imagine living somewhere with a backyard like this?! When I visit places like this, I like to sit and gaze and wonder what life would have been like in such a home.
I imagine myself peering out windows in round rooms, dining in the enormous, could host 100 people dining room, sneaking through secret tunnels and hidden staircases, reading one of the books in the library and taking a break to recline and gaze up at the stunning ceiling. Lots of intricate detailing.
Places like these seem more tourist/visitor packed than places like Toronto Islands, especially when it's still summer vacation and especially when the weather is fantastic. They might not be as slow paced, relaxing, leisurely, and contemplative as our walks on Toronto Islands and through the Toronto Music Garden, but they are still fantastic experiences. It's always wonderful to be transported back in time and learn about the dinosaurs and think about just how old the earth is and how everything evolved. It's great to see the history of a sport, to read about the members' stellar skills and careers, to remember events like the Miracle on Ice. And it's always fun to imagine yourself living in a luxurious castle, summoning your servant to bring you tea via the secret staircase or imagining yourself soaking in the huge tub in the marble bathroom, a bathroom possibly larger than some bedrooms!

But then, it's back to reality, and while our hotel was a very nice hotel, it wasn't quite as nice as Casa Loma must have been!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rip Off

You know how when you reserve a hotel room and you ask for a room with a view and they always sigh in annoyance and then say ok, if we can, we cannot guarantee it, but.... and then you figure you'll have a view of a brick wall or something? That didn't happen this time! We were only on the 8th floor, but the photo above was taken through our hotel room window. Gorgeous. There was a substantial window sill and every morning, I put my water and breakfast on the sill and ate while gazing out the window at the lake.
One morning, we took the ferry over to Toronto Islands. It's a quick 10 minute ride. We took the ferry to Center Island.
To me, the islands are a wonderful, huge park. It was so peaceful and relaxing to walk around. Of course, we started out on Center Island, and there is a small amusement park for kids. So it wasn't so peaceful at first. It's also for big kids as SP purchased some ride tickets and rode several rides, including this adorable kiddie coaster, the Toronto Islands Monster.
There is something pretty neat about sitting in the shade, people watching, and hearing/seeing kids run past screaming with such joy, running with abandon, excited about a ride being open and isn't that great and let's go! It's what I imagine little SP was like at amusement parks.
After riding a few rides, we started walking towards Wards Island. We walked past several fountains, along a boardwalk, past a beach area, and out onto a pier.
I could sit and gaze at water all day long. Somewhere, across the lake, was NY state. All those beautiful shades of blue.
Toronto Islands is a great place to walk, to bicycle, to play disc golf (there is a course), to kayak. To relax and savor and feel miles away from the city, which if you turn north-ish and walk a short distance is instantly visible across the water.
 We stopped for lunch on Wards Island at a place called The Rectory Cafe.
There is a small indoor seating area, but the day was so absolutely gorgeous that we decided to sit out in the garden. Our table was right next to a bunch of flowers and I kept a close eye on hovering bees. I've never been stung, by anything, and I'd like to keep it that way! SP ordered iced tea (they had unsweetened iced tea!) but I opted for a pot of hot tea. I also chose a special of the day, a frittata with smoked mozarella, spinach, and red onions.
The slice of frittata was served atop a toasted and lightly buttered brioche half. It was light, tasty, filling, a great accompaniment to the tasty frittata. A small bit of mixed greens with balsamic drizzle completed the plate. The frittata was not under or over cooked and had a nice amount of filling.
SP chose Curry Cauliflower Soup, which I tasted and liked but I am not sure I like the flavor of curry enough to eat an entire cup or bowl of this soup. No chunks of cauliflower, they were pureed, it was thick and rich, not overly spicy, a good amount of curry taste. The sandwich was fresh mozzarella and avocado on brioche. It was creamy without being too creamy and fattening/decadent. The mashed avocado had a hint of citrus flavor.
We decided to share a dessert. It was such a great day and we were enjoying a leisurely lunch, outside, in the sun, on vacation, no worries, no schedule, that we wanted to linger. The Brandied Apple Cake with caramel sauce and strawberries & blueberries and a dollop of whipped cream was delicious. Moist. A hint of cinnamon and I think clove. Small, moist chunks of apples.

All in all, a very nice and tasty cafe with terrific servers on Toronto Islands. Rectory Cafe on Urbanspoon

After riding the ferry back and freshening up at the hotel, we walked to CN Tower. We got there a bit before 6 pm and there was not a line to buy tickets. This surprised us because we had read about long lines to buy tickets, long lines to ride the elevator up, etc. By long I mean 1-2 hours.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, we drove to Toronto, stayed overnight, and then flew to Calgary for a 2 week vacation in western Canada. I remember 2 things very clearly. One, it was my first ever plane ride, first plane ride for my mom and brother, too, and as we started to taxi away, there was some kind of mechanical issue and we had to return to the gate and wait for a new plane. My mom always tells this story with relish and reminds my poor brother of how white with fear his face was.

My other recollection is dining at the revolving restaurant at CN Tower. It was a very big deal because at that time, the tower had been open to the public for about 5 years and was the world's tallest free-standing structure and the world's tallest tower. I remember walking across a nice park area to get to the tower, the thrill of riding the elevator up, the excitement of the restaurant revolving as I ate. My dad, the engineer, regaling us with facts about the tower, how it was an engineering feat, something special, the experience not to be forgotten.

Things are a little different now.

For one, there is construction all around the tower, It's construction - it's not pretty. I think they are building a Ripley's Aquarium. For another, I thought the restaurant prices were ridiculously high and I know there is no way they were that high when we went because my parents would never have paid that kind of money for 10-11 year old me and 9 year old little brother to eat there. It had to have been more reasonably priced.

If you're willing to spend $48+/person on lunch or $55+/person on dinner, your access to the elevator ride and views are free.

We did not wish to have a meal at the revolving restaurant, so we bought tickets to ride up, do Skypod, and do the Glass Floor. With taxes, one ticket was close to $35. Here's what our experience was:

Good: no ticket line

Bad: somewhat confusing entrance, kind of dirty, not very well done

Good: 5 minute wait to ride elevator up to Look Out

Bad: mob scene, difficult to get around, hard to see out window from wheelchair, not very well marked, not many easily visible and useful signs, confusing

Bad: At least an hour wait for Skypod with the line wrapping around much of the viewing area, making it difficult to get around

Good: We were able to hop on an elevator right away to go down to the outdoor observation area and glass floor

Bad: In spite of sunny and warm day, windy and cold outside on this level (I was really, really cold!), and netting, while an important safety feature and I am not at all suggesting it be removed, does somewhat inhibit a clear view

Bad: Glass floor freaked me out and I could not go out on it. I am old and wimpy! SP and all the kids there loved it.

So-so: 15-20 minute wait for elevator down
Employees were extremely courteous and helpful when we asked for help. Due to the long wait and somewhat mob-like atmosphere, we skipped Skypod even though we paid for it.

I feel as if CN Tower is somewhat... tourist tacky now. It's still the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, it's a symbol of Toronto, of Canada, it's been declared one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, it just didn't seem to live up to its status as an amazing engineering marvel. It was disappointing and possibly the biggest travel disappointment we've had. We definitely felt ripped off. $34/ticket x 2 tickets = $68 and it just was not in any way a $68 experience.

Adding to my frustration was that for the first time in my life, as we went up in the elevator and I saw the cables through the glass windows on the side of the elevator and as I glanced down through the glass window on the elevator floor, I had some sort of... panic attack? Fear of heights? I wanted out. I felt sick. I was flushed, my heart was racing, I was trying to take deep breaths and control my breathing. I told SP as soon as we got off the elevator that he would most likely be experiencing the glass floor without me. I was OK after that, I had no problem going outside and walking around on that level, I was OK on the ride down, but going up...something weird happened!

I'm not sure I can really recommend CN Tower. It was a lot of money for a so-so experience in a mob of people with long waits plus my sudden panic attack. We could have done without this on our trip and never would have regretted it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

People Watching

It all started with discussions about where to go for a long (3 day) weekend. Baltimore? DC? Niagara Falls? Niagara Falls.

While seeing the falls themselves is a must, I wasn't too excited about the wineries, many of which I have visited on past trips, and the 'tourist' things like Skywheel, House of Frankenstein, and Crystal Caves have no appeal for me.

But Toronto... Toronto is just another hour or so of driving. I haven't been to Toronto since I was 10 or 11 years old. 

Then I realized there is a whole lotta stuff to see/do/enjoy in Toronto, not to mention its proximity to Canada's Wonderland amusement park, which piqued SP's interest.

And that's how a 3 day weekend turned into an 8 day vacation.

Sunday, day 2 of our Canadian adventure, started off with a drive to Niagara on the Lake (NOTL). I had not been to NOTL, situated along the south shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River. It's a cute, picturesque, slightly touristy town. We drove around, parked, and wandered up and down what I think is the main street, Queen Street, in what I presume is the Heritage District. Lots of shops, eateries. We browsed a tea & coffee store, a hat store, lotions & perfumes, clothing, decor... and of course we ate.

By 12:30 pm we were pretty hungry but of course many of the restaurants we wandered past were filled and there was a wait, or they were not accessible. Then we spotted The Irish Tea Room and decided to venture in.

After going through a shop selling Irish goods (sweaters, blankets, etc.) we entered a small, maybe 15 seats, cafe area. We took a seat at a table and pondered our menu options. It's a very limited menu: boxty, quiche, steak pie, and maybe one other entree. 

Since I didn't want a large portion of food, we decided to share the quiche and for our two sides, we chose the mixed greens and the broccoli salad. There also was a beet side and a beans side.
Our table was right next to the baked goodies selection! They have a lot of gluten free goodies, and while he no longer must eat gluten free, finding gluten free goodies still excites SP. 

The quiche is gluten free. It has a rice base. We chose cheese & ham. It was delicious! The greens were crisp and fresh. The broccoli seemed raw, but maybe had been blanched a wee bit because it wasn't as crunchy as I had expected, and had a light mayo-like dressing with tiny bacon bits.

It was enough to share and fill our bellies, especially since we had plans to return to a place we had walked past earlier: Nina Gelateria.
So many tempting flavors of gelato and sorbet. SP chose Peach Sorbet, I chose White Chocolate Raspberry gelato. His peach sorbet was creamy and very peachy. My gelato was a smooth, rich white chocolate with raspberry swirl mixed in as well as some raspberry sauce drizzled on top. Just what we needed after lunch and on a sunny, warm day before heading back to the car and driving to Toronto.

We stayed at the Westin Hotel along the harbourfront in Toronto. This turned out to be a very good location for us. We were able to walk to a lot of places and an accessible subway stop was just a few blocks away. After checking in and freshening up, we headed out for a stroll along the harbourfront.

There are a lot of tourists in Toronto! There is a lot happening along the harbourfront on a late Sunday afternoon! People lounging on the grass, people boating, performers like 'fire man,' concerts, food... it was great! We walked and walked and walked.
Cool wavy bridge walkways, planes that fly in over the lake to land at the airport, the ever visible CN Tower. And boats. Lots of boats.

Of course eventually we wanted to eat. We had asked the hotel concierge for a pub like place within walking distance, and of the two places suggested, we had already walked past one of them, so we decided to make it easy and just go there. No Urbanspoon research. No Yelp research. We just went.
The Watermark is supposed to be an Irish pub, but like many supposed Irish pubs I have entered, it somehow seemed not so Irish. It was located right along the water, we sat outside and had great views of the water and of all the people. And thank goodness for the amazing people watching because service was slower than molasses. It took about 10 minutes before our server came over. At that point, I discovered the iced tea issue.  

I ordered iced tea and asked for sugar since there wasn't any sweetener on the table. She said something about how we must be from the States and that the iced tea was already sweetened with Nestea. I was confused, sad, and ordered water instead. She offered to brew me fresh iced tea, unsweetened, but knowing that the word "Nestea' had been tossed out there, well, I was reluctant. I was afraid that they would not know how to brew fresh iced tea, the proper strength and then icing so it wasn't too weak tasting.

Upon reflection, I wonder if they brew fresh tea then sweeten it with Nestea, which seems odd to me, not just because, well, ugh, Nestea and its fake, gross sweetness, but why add an iced tea powder to fresh iced tea? 

The iced tea issue cropped up nearly everywhere in Canada. They must not be a nation of fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea drinkers! 

So, water for both of us. We ordered. And waited. Our food finally arrived and we dug in. As we were swallowing our third or fourth bites, a server came over. The server was bearing our meals on a platter. He started to serve us and then stopped, saying, oh, gosh, you already have your food, sorry. He had our exact order on his tray. Hmmm. Big kitchen mix up?

SP had Seafood Chowder and Strawberry Spinach Salad (with blueberries, watermelon, onions, pecans, goat cheese in a raspberry vinaigrette). SP said his seafood chowder was a little greasy, it had an oil slick on top, and his salad was a salad, good but nothing special. 

I had the Lobster Club (lobster with arugula, bacon, tomatoes, chipotle mayo, ancient grains bread). My lobster ended up being a bit watery and not too flavorful and the chipotle mayo a little to spicy for me, but the bread was very good. SP thought it was OK but that it didn't seem to have that much good lobster on it.

By this point, the sun had set, we were tired from a long day of walking, but we decided to peruse the dessert menu. Here is where service got really slow. After asking for a dessert menu, it took 5-10 minutes to get one. It took another 10+ minutes for her to return, at which point I was so annoyed that I passed on ordering an Irish Coffee even though I was a little chilly and wanted something warm. I feared it would take forever to get it. It took another nearly 10 minutes to get the check, 5 minutes for her to return to pick it up, and 5-10 minutes for her to bring it back with our credit card. I am not kidding. I actually started using a stopwatch app on my phone to time everything. I know we asked for the dessert menu around 8:05 and we didn't get out of there until 8:50. Absolutely terrible, plus, by this point, our server was having a really bad night and her demeanor had gone from chipper and friendly to annoyed and harried. I cannot remember an instance in our 5+ years together when we  have had such horrible service and been so annoyed that we tipped less than the usual 15~20%, and honestly, she's lucky she got what she got because it was so awful we discussed leaving no tip.

So, so-so food, terrible service, apparently confused kitchen, but terrific outdoor seating, lake view, and people watching. Only go if you have time and patience.

And then we stopped at Sobeys Urban Fresh (small grocery store with deli and bakery) to buy breakfast for the next morning and went back to our hotel to snuggle up.

I've been saying how the people watching was so great from our restaurant. The restaurant is right next to a boat dock. I think the boat does sight-seeing tours and evening party cruises. I think it was Mariposa?Anyway, there was lots of entertainment right next to us as party guests began arriving for their party cruise. 
We did our very own version of Fashion Police as we sat there and watched everyone arrive and board. I think that barely on her body, hanging by a thread shirt left SP speechless! (He snapped the above photo of the barely there shirt.) There were a lot of stripper shoes and tight dresses, barely covered bums and barely covered boobs. It was quite the sight!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Taken through the window of the visitors center when the wind was whipping spray from the falls around, making it seem like it was raining.
A couple of weekends ago, SP and I set off on a trip. We went over the rainbow. The Rainbow Bridge, that is, which leads from Niagara Falls, NY to Niagara Falls, Canada. I have been to Niagara Falls, Canada several times but each time I am awed by the beauty of the falls. This was SP's first visit.
We couldn't have asked for a better day. Sunshine, clear, blue sky, temperatures in the high 70's/low 80's. And a breeze strong enough to keep you cool and to kick up a plume of mist. At first, I was sad, because the wind whipped mist was obscuring my view of the Horseshoe Falls. But then, we turned to face the American Falls, and we saw it. The rainbow.
The rainbow magic started, for us, here. I know what a rainbow is, I understand the science of it all, but  in the face of these gorgeous, powerful, cascading falls, a rainbow seems extra magical and special. Especially since I had not seen a rainbow on my previous visits.
Then we turned towards the Horseshoe Falls and saw more rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Stunning.
At this point, the multitudes of tourists were in full LOOK! RAINBOW! mode, ourselves included. Lots of jostling to see, to get the best view, the best angle, cameras furiously clicking away, tourists posing, holding their small children up high, ooohhhs and aaahhhhs, and what I presume was the word for beautiful (or gorgeous or magical or just wow) in so many languages I lost count.
The rainbow disappeared deep into the Horseshoe Falls, it arced across the bright blue sky and across the American Falls, disappearing into the Niagara River. I never did see the pot of gold, but that's OK, because the rainbow was special enough.

Just the right combination of sunshine, wind, and cascading falls mist for an unforgettable sight. We sat and gazed for a very long time. I thought about how much water poured over the falls in a day, in an hour, in a minute. (Turns out it's 600,000 gallons/second over the Horseshoe Falls.) About the geological forces that created this awesome display. How much does the cliff under the falls erode each year from the force of the rushing water? (Less than one foot/year thanks to anti-erosion efforts and water diversion.) What does it look like in winter? How much ice forms then? Do the Falls ever freeze? (No, not the Horseshoe Falls, not the Niagara River, but the American Falls can due to ice jams limiting the flow of water over the falls.) Just how close can the wee Maid of the Mist tourist boat get to the falls and does it struggle in the face of the mighty current of the river? (More info here.)

It was nearing 6 pm and we were tired from our drive and the walk down the steep hill to the falls, plus all the walking along the falls. So we went back up the steep hill and into the Fallsview Casino. We figured that was the easiest place to grab a casual dinner, especially since we didn't want to drive anywhere. We decided to try Falls & Firkin.

We sat outside, which actually ended up being a bit chilly since the wind had picked up and even though we were up the cliff and a bit inland from the falls, we could still sometimes feel the mist.
Post-dinner research revealed that Falls & Firkin is part of the Firkin Pubs group, with several locations in Ontario, Canada.
I tired a Blackberry Mint Mule (raspberry vodka, ginger ale, lemon, mint, blackberries). It was OK but tasted like there wasn't any alcohol in it, just a berry flavored ginger ale, which was disappointing. We shared an appetizer of Potato & Cheddar Pierogies. These were different/unusual because they were deep fried, not boiled and/or sauteed. It seemed odd. It also made them dry. They weren't greasy from the deep frying. There was a nice potato-cheddar taste, lots of green onion bits and bacon bits scattered around the plate for additional flavor, and sour cream to up the moisture, but... I don't think we'd get these again. They seemed a little too... un-pierogie-like!

My sandwich was Maple BBQ Pulled Pork with cheddar cheese & tenpura battered apple slices. Hmmmm. I couldn't decided if this was an inspired interpretation of a pulled pork sandwich or an abomination of pulled pork. Apples and pork are one of those natural pairings, but... on a pulled pork sandwich? I ended up really enjoying the tenpura apples. They added a nice, extra flavor to the sandwich and a bit of crunch. The pulled pork was pretty tasty, moist, and I liked the maple bbq flavor, not too sweet. I'd get this again.

SP chose Turkey & Avocado Club with bacon, lettuce, tomato, on multigrain bread. Generous slices of turkey, smushed avocado, parmesan mayo on the side (he added just a wee bit) - it's pretty hard to screw up this kind of sandwich, and they didn't. He ate every last bit.

We were too full for dessert, and too tired for much else, so we walked back to our hotel and, in a sign of old age?, both fell asleep around 9:30 pm and and slept through until 7:30 am the next morning! It had been a long day, and in the week before our trip we seemed to be getting to bed later and later and rising earlier and earlier, so I suppose sleeping for 10 hours was a good thing. Sweet dreams of rainbows.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Charred, Raw, and Fried

Lately, there has been a lot of non-food stuff occupying our attention. We're still eating, just not being too creative or trying much new. I've been a little uninspired in the kitchen as well as with dining out. Not even Pittsburgh Restaurant Week has grabbed my attention. We couldn't make it to the opening event and then couldn't make it to the blogger dinner. There is so much going on this week that, as unbelievable as it sounds, we just can't seem to find the time to enjoy any of the PRW deals.

Lately, we also have been dealing with lots of annoying adult stuff (property reassessment stuff, medical bills/health insurance stuff, house stuff, yard stuff, budget stuff...). SP got stung by hornets while weeding the mulch areas (which actually look much less mulchy lately and more like overgrown mini jungles). No matter how diligently we attend to the yard, it grows like crazy this time of year and even just 1-2 days later, looks as if we are neglectful homeowners. I suppose all this rain isn't helping.

It seems that every day there is a long list of 'matters still not resolved' and 'chores' and frankly, it is really weighing me down. I feel beaten by bureaucratic crap and all the other stuff we just can't seem to sort out and solve. And then there's the health stuff. I definitely have not been feeling all that terrific lately. Some of SP's issues are flaring up, which stresses me out. And my parents are at that age when stuff starts to happen and is currently happening.

Weighed down. Constant fretting. And so tired.

It's not all serious adult crap, though. We went to the Benedum see The Addams Family, which was a lot of fun. We watched a lot of the Olympics. Just as I got SP on the Pirates bandwagon they started losing, but we're still watching and hoping for the best. We had a meal out with friends to celebrate a friend reaching a weight loss goal. We've seen several movies. And I find myself still taking photos of food, although when I checked the camera and cell phone my food photos seem a bit random!

There was a tomato tart, our first of the summer.    
Sadly, the tomatoes were roasted too long and were charred tomatoes. Not very tasty. I was very disappointed. Not even the puff pastry and liberal amounts of feta and goat cheese could disguise the charred tomatoes.
We tried a new dish, a Lamb Ragu with Ricotta and Mint.
It was tasty, but not as tasty as I'd hoped. I stumbled across the recipe and it made me think of the amazing lamb & pasta dish I ate at George's in San Diego last April. Sadly, this recipe was not as tasty as that dish, perhaps because it was ground lamb, not braised lamb, and didn't have kalamatas or artichokes. I think I would have preferred my ricotta as a scoop on the side (like at George's) instead of melted into the sauce. And more mint. Definitely more mint next time.
We spent a lovely 2 hours eating lunch and talking with friends at Bartrams House Bakery. A small cookie and blueberry muffin:
I had a breakfast sandwich, again (egg, cheddar, bacon, tomato, spinach on croissant). Delicious.
SP had a cheddar and broccoli soup which I thought was just OK. It was a thin soup, not thick and cheesy, more of a light cheese flavored broth with large chunks of broccoli florets instead of wee flecks of broccoli. What can I say, I like my cheese soup thick and creamy and cheesy and light on the broccoli - in other words, absolutely unhealthy!

We have enjoyed some wine in the last few weeks, including trying a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that was a much stronger sauvignon blanc than what I normally enjoy. We also made cocktails, my usual 4 kinds of liquor with fresh orange juice cocktail.
A different kind of potato salad: Red Potato & Green Bean Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette:
Some of the potatoes were not cooked enough, so that dampened my enjoyment of this salad. Plus, the shallot seems to be giving me heartburn or acid or something, as raw shallot/onion in salads sometimes does.

We made homemade vanilla ice cream, which I forgot to photograph, and chocolate chip cheese bars, which I also forgot to photograph. The bars are super easy:

2 cups chocolate chip cookie dough (or any cookie dough you desire)
8 oz cream cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
Press half of cookie dough into bottom of greased 8x8 pan. In bowl, mix cream cheese, egg, and sugar. Spread in pan on top cookie dough. Crumble remaining cookie dough on top. Bake 350 for 35-40 minutes.

And we went back to Downey's House where SP enjoyed salmon with a mushroom & bacon & sun dried tomato sauce plus a side salad and I enjoyed pepperoni rolls and funnel cake fries with chocolate sauce for dessert.
Hopefully, we'll get some of the items on THE LIST crossed off soon and things will feel a bit... less weighty! And maybe once that happens we'll feel more like cooking and we'll stop grilling chicken or cooking pasta or making salad from whatever was in the CSA for our meals!