Sunday, February 21, 2010

A rose by any other name...

We've talked a lot about the tastes of home that we're missing, but something that's becoming increasingly apparent is the number of things that are actually available, under different names. So, a short post this lazy Sunday morning, of our discoveries to date -- and locals, and aficionados of all things British, please weigh in with comments to help us out:
  • Eggplant = aubergine: we haven't found pickled eggplant yet, a favourite in our antipasti trays, but we're more hopeful now than we had been.
  • Turnip = swede (among other names, like neeps, of course): the interesting thing here is that they call really small swedes, turnips. What we'd normally buy is a swede.
  • Corn starch = cornflour: took a while to hunt that one down, as their grocery store aisles aren't always organized as you'd expect either.
  • Canola oil = rapeseed oil: well, not really, according to the Canola Council of Canada, but it's pretty close.
    Canola is not rapeseed. It looks the same on the outside but it’s very different on the inside where it matters. In the late 1960s, plant scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to get rid of rapeseed’s undesirable qualities – erucic acid and glucosinolates. That means canola oil and meal are different from rapeseed oil and meal.
  • Dish soap = wash-up liquid: not a taste we were missing, obviously, :-) but pretty darn confusing, nonetheless.
Well, that's it for now. I'll comment on others as we find them; feel free to do the same, as I said.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

To quote RST, it's gonna be a great day!

Started out with some highlights from the Olympics this morning: Amy Williams' gold in women's skeleton, which is big, big news here, of course, and Jon Montgomery's gold in the men's. Then we headed to town to get photos taken for our driver's licences; we're coming up to the end of our grace period for getting them switched over.

While we were waiting for the photos to be processed, we went on to Moss Books -- a favourite of mine, as regular readers know -- for a bit of browsing. Well, we had some great success, finding so many books that we had some difficulty carrying them home! Tea found a series of Jamie Oliver cookbooks, and I found a few William Golding titles, as well as a collection of stories by Graham Swift, a new favourite of mine after delving into Waterland this week.

Tea at Ask
On the way back, we stopped for a bite at Ask, an Italian restaurant we'd passed many times to date. We started out with an amazing antipasti tray, followed by bean soup for Tea and spaghetti amatriciana for me; I was sold on the latter the moment I walked into the restaurant and spied its enormous advertisement, highlighting Davina McCall's charity. Well, the whole meal was incredible, knocking out Zizzi's for the best Italian in town; quite an accomplishment.

Now we're home watching the ladies' Super G; so many DNFs! Tomorrow's ski cross. Should be awesome!

Our amazing spread at Ask. Yum!
PS: to all those scratching their heads at the title of this post, Remington Snatch Trio is a side-project of the awesome Canadian powerhouse, Mullet Rock. Check 'em out!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The green, green grass of home

Since getting back from Bruges -- I'm still editing the many photos from that trip -- Tea 'n' I have been takin' it easy. Last weekend we went to Tewkesbury for a beer festival, and had a great time. Their abbey really is worth all the chatter we hear on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, and the town exemplifies the best of what we mean when we say 'small'. We met a woman in the tourist information centre who'd been to Ottawa a number of times with a touring company she worked for. (She loved it, of course.) The coincidences continued as we met a few Americans at the beer festival, and had a great chat over a few pints.

This weekend has been all about the Olympics, of course. One more point on the local radio: Eddie 'The Eagle' is from here, and some guest they had on the other day had Tea 'n' I in stitches as he was just cuttin' into Eddie, in the sharp, yet self-deprecating, way the British seem to excel at. "Oh, God, yes, we wheel him out every four years. Only in Britain would we make a national hero of someone who's rubbish. [scathing emphasis] God love us."

The opening ceremony was fantastic; Tea's favourite part was k.d.'s rendition of Hallelujah -- I enjoyed it too, but I'm still partial to Jeff Buckley's cover -- and mine was the fiddlers, closely followed by that amazing "Powering the city" sequence against the representation of the Rockies. The BBC seems to be the only channel that carried it over here. (And the only one that's carrying the Games in general, if only partially, unfortunately.) Still, it's neat getting a foreign perspective on Canada, as they complain about how foreigners only got the minimum amount of time on the hills -- a complaint against the host nation every year, their athlete-turned-commentator was quick to point out -- and marvel at the beauty of Vancouver and the Rockies, and the diversity of our heritage. (They had all sorts of trivia about the Governor General, the RCMP, our flag and anthem -- it was great!) I've only ever flown over the Rockies -- and once at that -- and now, more than ever, I want to see them when I get back. I've got a list, actually, that includes some stuff I really should've done before now, like the Cabot Trail (I've done every other part of that coast, oddly), Gros Morne, Banff and St. Anthony, to name a few.

On that note, a new British friend, Pete, is in Ottawa right now, taking in the ice sculptures and skating, gorging himself on Beavertails. He's even made it out to Edelweiss snowboarding. I'm seeing my home through new eyes -- thanks to mobile uploads to Facebook -- and falling in love with it all over again. There's some truth to that statement about the green grass, I tell ya.

* * *

I've been writing this over a few days. We just got back from a stroll to town for a spot of lunch at one of our favourite spots, Gusto, and a bit of shopping. I actually made Tea breakfast in bed this morning! Probably shouldn't be such a rarity, but I had to mention it, as it turned out so well. I made pancakes -- from a mix of imported Aunt Jemima (thanks, Michelle!), it's true, but that's still a challenge for me -- and they were so fluffy! Tea's now promised to call on my limited skills more often, which is of course the rub with these sorts of successes. (Just kidding!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bruges: Beyond Belief

De Wijngaard monastery
We recently spent a four-day weekend away in Bruges. We got the train to London after work, and stayed the night in a nice, cheap hotel near Paddington Station. Then it was off to Brussels on the Eurostar – our first time! – followed by the slowest train ever to Bruges... Just kidding, but it seemed like that after the Eurostar; twenty minutes to travel under the English Channel!

The Burg Square
The first two days we spent walking around the city; first on what they call the tourist walk, and then, on the second day, on the residential walk, which takes you past some retired windmills too. The whole city really is breathtaking. You've heard it many times now, thanks to that movie – which they have for sale in the tourist information centre next to the train station, incidentally – but it really can't be overstated. The first time I walked into the Markt and saw that belfry, my legs just sort of stopped moving forward, and I'm sure my jaw went stupidly slack. All I could think was, "I'm here. This is Europe."

And if the architecture wasn't enough, you've got the history – we enjoyed a pint of the local Brugse Zot in Café Vlissinghe, a pub that's been in operation since 1515, for example – and, best of all, the food. You know you've landed in a little slice of heaven when, stuffed full of delicious moules frites, you round a cobblestoned corner to smell the most heartwrenchingly-wonderful waffles on the evening air. We had to buy one. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to pass without buying something, actually. And have I mentioned the orange slices, half dipped in heavenly Belgian chocolate? So perfectly sweet and tart? At some point, it does get ridiculous, trust me. As long as you accept that you'll have your Homer-in-the-land-of-chocolate moment – no, I didn't bite any dogs, before you ask – you'll be fine.

In Café Vlissinghe
What else to say... The beer is very strong – even by our standards – and designing the glasses for each brew really does seem to be as important as you've probably heard. It's funny: the tour guide at De Halve Maan brewery said that Belgium has done away with champagne and wine at even their fanciest official dos; only local beer is served now, so they had to make glasses that the ladies could hold with grace. But, yeah, the 'tripel' – usually around 9% – will knock you on your arse pretty darn quick if you aren't careful. That said, the stuff is really tasty. And while, yes, I am a fan of the stronger Unibroue stuff that many won't go near, I have to acknowledge that brews like Brugge Tripel really are in a league of their own.

One final point: we'd heard that Bruges has a different sort of market on Saturday mornings – their version of a boot sale, I guess we'd say now – and decided to check it out. Well, just when we thought the city could hold no more culinary surprises: there we are, in the middle of a freak, ten-minute white-out of snow, in a square full of motorhome-size trucks dedicated to the god of cooked meat. Seriously, these trucks were on fire! Whole sides open, and more ribs, wings, and legs of tasty beasts than I'd ever seen. It was like Ottawa's chicken and ribs festival on speed. Awesome! And then they had the trucks dedicated to cheese, pastries, sweets... As I've said many times, had I grown up there, I would be a very round Belgian man; no question. And, on that note, from one of the best meals of the trip, in Den Gouden Karpel: