On Canada, Camping, and Camping in Canada

16 August 2009

DSC_0042E and I just got back from a wonderful trip up North.  She attended APA in Toronto while I milled around the city and attempted to work.  Then we both spent almost a week in Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park.  Got in some excellent hiking, camping, and kayaking.  Pix will be on my Flickr page soon.

It was an interesting time to be in Canada, as the whole country seems to get a bit of a kick out of our gnashing over health care reform.  Lots of people asked about the city, and they were almost uniformly more informed about our status than people in other parts of the US.  And because it was only the 2nd time I’d been there, I now feel equipped to judge the entire country on my limited experience.  So herewith, some overgeneralizations about Canadians:

DSC_0171First, meet Tom.  Tom runs Doc’s Gas Bar, which I hoped meant Gas & Bar, but didn’t.  It’s the typical rural supply store where in the States you’d find rebel flag hats and lots of cellophane-wrapped “nougat” products for sale.  We came there to buy firewood and ice, and a couple of citronella candles.  On our first stop, Tom was very friendly and asked us where we were from and eventually asked us how we felt about “this guy behind me,” which was the first time I noticed that he had a big Obama poster behind the counter.  I told him that I was pretty thrilled and that it sure as hell was a step up from his predecessor, but then it dawned on me how weird it was that in this otherwise redneck-looking outpost, the man wouldn’t just be a closet Obama sympathizer, but would actually advertise it.  Not even his president (or maybe that’s why it’s safer).  Anyway, here’s E and me with Tom.  As he put it, “White men screwed it all up, and it’ll take a black man to fix it.”

Here are some other thoughts on the trip:

  • In American parks, if you’re willing to hike about 1/4 mile on a trail, you don’t see anyone else; no so in Canada.  People really get out there.
  • Sea kayaking is a lot of fun as long as you’re not in a hurry.
  • I was amazed at how little wildlife we saw.  The parks were pristine, but at night you wouldn’t hear as much as a cricket or frog, and our fauna tally amounted basically to some frogs, lots of squirrels, a couple rabbits, 2 water snakes, and a couple chipmunks.  Kinda disappointing.
  • It’s pretty hard to get decent bourbon in Canada.
  • Stone Orchid Indonesian restaurant in Tobermory is phenomenal and set us up with a full 7-course vegetarian feast on our anniversary (14 yrs, btw).
  • If at all possible, avoid driving on Toronto highways or downtown.
  • If someone offers you an Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, do not accept.  It’s no IPA at all; virtually no hops.
  • On the other hand, the Mill Street Brewery makes a number of very fine beers.
  • I’m really glad we’ve given up backpacking in favor of base-camp-day-hiking.
  • Even though Canadians seem to use their parks more, they’re fairly loud (and yes, I know it was the Canadians by the accent, and yes, I know I’m generalizing, but I cautioned about that).  I mean jeez, people are sleeping in a tent 20 feet from you and you’re going to stay up talking at full volume?  And all parks should ban recorded music at all times.
  • The Harry Potter book recordings make for excellent road-trip listening.
  • My wife is amazingly tolerant.

DSC_0137Great trip, and now work resumes.  Counting my blessings to have the opportunity to travel and relax.  I sure sleep better in that tent.

HammHawk’s Friday Raves

3 July 2009

Menage a Trois red.  Seems like every time I drink this, I like it more than anything else.  Don’t be a blend snob.

FuckYouPenguin.  New URL, same phenomenal writing.

Get Fuzzy.  E likes it even more than I do (as in, she’s a freak for it), but is there any doubt this is the best strip going?

Rambla.  Best tapas I’ve had in a loooong time.

Backgammon.  E & I’ve been playing a lot lately, and it’s just a wonderful game.  Played all my life, and it never gets old.

Harvey Milk.  Now we’ve seen Milk and the documentary it’s based on.  That guy was awesome.


22 May 2009

I’ll bet this thing can save me $10k a year by encouraging me to eat in even if we have “nothing” to eat.  Thanks, LifeHacker!

Weekend Restaurant Roundup

19 May 2009

The folks were in this weekend, and my family is pretty into food.  Sadly, they’re also worried about money, but we tried to get them to live it up a little.  Here’s where we made it:

Friday night:  Eleven 79.  We love this place, and the food was excellent as always, but the service was a little spotty.  The guy forgot the wine, left us alone for too long at once, bread was slow in coming (and burnt once).  But damn they make a great pasta.

Saturday lunch:  Ignatius.  I had the salad with no bacon and corn macque choux.  Great stuff, and they loved theirs.  I was bummed by them a while back because they told me there was no meat in the beans, but it turns out there is. Went to La Divina for dessert.  Heavenly, as always, and the word is they’re opening a 3rd location right down the street from us, on Maple!

Saturday dinner:  After getting the run around from Cochon about table availability, we had a late bite at Ye Olde College Inn.  A surprisingly solid cheese poboy, but the real star was the dessert–fried bread pudding po boy, the winner of the dessert contest at the Po Boy Festival.  Really, really tasty, even to the folks at the table who aren’t willing to kill for bread pudding, as I am.

Sunday:  The highlight for mom was Surrey’s.  It’s my favorite breakfast place, and she’s still gaga over her omelette, which had crawfish and brie or something like that in it.  Me, I’m stuck on the roasted veggie omelette, but I add goat cheese and avocado.  Mmm.  And, as always, I got the grapefruit juice w/ ginger.

Overall, successful meals, and I’m glad to see so many places doing well.  But owners and managers–stay on the wait staff!  Some of them are slacking!

Bring on Cafe Bamboo!

7 January 2009

Boy, am I pumped about this place opening!

We’ve been without a true vegetarian restaurant for a long time.  There have only been a few such places since I’ve lived here.  Jack Sprat’s, a fully vegan restaurant with a heavy emphasis on imitation-meat dishes.  It wasn’t great, IMHO.  Then there was a cool place near Maple Street in the late 90s with lots of good mushroom dishes, such as mushroom Rockefeller.  I can’t remember the name, but it was great.  Probably the most successful (in terms of cuisine, anyway) was Old Dog New Trick, first on Exchange Alley and then on Frenchmen, although they insisted on keeping a damn tuna dish on the menu, thus keeping it from being a real vegetarian restaurant.

I don’t have any idea if Cafe Bamboo will be any good, but given it’s blessed location (Siam was a truly great Thai place BK) and it’s intriguing menu, I’m ready to give it a shot.  There’re a few too many imitation-meat dishes on the menu for my taste, but it’s still a lot more creative than most places.  So bring it on; the best food city needs a good really vegetarian place!

Welcome, Cafe Bamboo!

L. A. in LA

18 January 2008

Last night was interesting.  A friend of mine from college is in town from Los Angeles where he’s a producer.  He worked on Godzilla, Eight Legged Freaks (yeah, it really shoulda been Eight-Legged Freaks), and so on.  He’s in town scouting for a TV movie he’s doing with Noah Wyle called the Librarian.  E is pretty psyched to meet him when they come back to shoot.  Despite the mundane title, it sounded pretty cool.

I’ve never had a dinner quite like that.  There were 9 of us, including E and me, and Jacques-Imo’s was booked, so we went to Emeril’s.  Everyone else was involved with the movie, including other producers, the cinematographer, a cameraman, and the director, who happened to be Jonathan Frakes (Riker on Star Trek).  I’m not a trekkie, but I have some friends and a brother-in-law who will be envious.  He seemed like a nice guy.  It was interesting to hear them talk business and talk about shooting in New Orleans, even though I know nothing about making movies.

They said that tax rebates make it very attractive to shoot here, but it’s become so popular that it’s hard to put a crew together.  But they seemed to be enjoying themselves and really scouring the city for locations.  And they were heading to see Rebirth at Howlin Wolf afterward too.

The guy who picked up the tab (thanks, Phil) is a member of the Director’s Guild, who just quickly reached an agreement on Internet issues, so it was interesting to hear his take on the writers’ strike.  He contends that sharing Internet proceeds would actually be a bad deal for the writers because people who buy on the web won’t buy DVDs, so the take will shrink.  So a fair proportion will yield less money.  I don’t know enough to tell whether that’s right or just a party line from a guy who’s frustrated with the strike, but it was an interesting perspective that I hadn’t heard before.

As always, Emeril’s did us right with the veggie option.  Really good combination of vegetables and flavors.

I was hoping we might be more help with their scouting, but they seem to have most things pretty well figured out.  They did need an old-looking library setting, and I suggested checking out Latter Library.  Also, heads up, because they haven’t settled on “the mysterious Simone” yet, so local hotties should be sending resumes.

For what ales ya

29 November 2007

I know things are tough around here, but the good people at Abita have made it a little easier by finally making an IPA.  Jockamo (yeah that’s how they spell it) is pretty good stuff.  I’ve never been a fan of their amber; it seems strangely dusty tasting to me, and I can’t explain what I mean by that.  No one else seems to agree with me.  Restoration ale was, to me, their best brew by far, although Andygator rocks too (don’t get me started on Turbodog, a great name but mediocre beer, IMHO).

Jockamo won’t replace Sierra Nevada or other good IPAs in my rotation completely, but I love me some hops, and they finally put some more in there.  Frankly, I could use a little more bite, but it always feels better drinking something almost-local.

What I Learned from Blogging this Weekend

12 March 2007

If you’re talking to someone who’s starting to blog, and he or she just wants people to find the page, here’s a recommendation: Include some reference (inadvertent or otherwise) to sex or drugs. I wish I could attribute my big spike in hits on either a sudden interest in my posts, or in supporting a good new gelateria, but alas, I fear that the visitation is the result of my inclusion of the word “ecstasy” in the title. Oh well.

I don’t get a lot of business, which is fine, but these stats really cracked me up. Still, go to La Divina!

Update:  I ended up with 281 views that day.  Sheesh.

La Divina Gelateria–Ecstasy with a Purpose

11 March 2007

la-divina-window.jpgAlright, I haven’t done much plugging here, but I’m encouraging you to visit La Divina Gelateria (3005 Magazine, near Washington).

I’ve now tried several of their flavors–all wonderful–and my current favorite is creme brulee (the chunks of burnt sugar really make it). The others I’ve had and loved are stracciatella, mint stracciatella, pistachio, and cookies. We have some pretty good treat selections in town now, but you need to make this place a part of your circuit.

la-divina-owners.jpgThese fine folks on the left are old friends of mine, Carmelo and Katrina Turillo, with their son Nicco. They’re some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet, and I’m thrilled to see them launching their new business in New Orleans. I met them in grad school at Tulane (no Nicco at that point), when they were some of the main forces behind the Mystic Krewe of Spermes. After Carmelo got his PhD, they moved to Madrid where he taught and did a stupendous job hosting us on a visit.

la-divina-katrina-salad.jpgThey missed New Orleans though, and, they returned with the dream of opening a true gelateria. They remained undaunted by the tragic coincidence of Katrina’s name, so these are real boosters of the city. You need to visit for a lot of reasons, and one of the main reasons is that these are good people who love the city and deserve our business; they’re the kind of business owners and citizens we all want here in New Orleans.

la-divina-layout.jpgBut I’m here to tell you that you’re sacrificing nothing in giving them your business. They make everything in the place from scratch, which you can imagine is highly involved and unusual. The gelato is unbelievable, and they have more flavors than you would expect from a new family-owned establishment. Carmelo showed me the guts of the operation and explained the process, which was fascinating. (the machine that heats the mixture is named Purgatorio, the fridge where they age is called Dante, and so on) One thing that makes the place different is that they make each recipe completely differently, rather than from a base, like a lot of places would do. Even their recipes are written in Italian!

la-divina-gelati.jpgThese folks also take their coffee seriously. I’m a tea man myself, and I had a terrific Assam there (lots of other premium teas to try, so maybe something that sounds more Italian would be in order), served with a sand timer to tell me when to plunge & pour. But their espresso looked different from what I’ve seen before, perhaps because of the gorgeous glasses they’re served in. With free wi-fi and some high-level brews, this could be a nice coffee shop hangout for you too.

la-divina-katrina-nicco.jpgLa Divina also has a selection of fresh panini and salads. I had the verdura, which was outstanding, with fresh mozzarella and grilled vegetables with a little basil. On the side was a garbanzo salad that knocked my socks off. They also have sandwiches with LA crawfish, pancetta, tuna, and so on, and they all look great.

In fact, the whole place if beautiful and classy; they’ve gone all out. Yeah, I’m biased and want to support my friends (this is not a sponsored post), but I promise you’ll be impressed with the attention to detail and the tasteful decor.

Again, you’ll be treating yourself and contributing to the revitalization of the city. Give La Divina and the Turillos your support! Grazie!