Simply Biscotti, on being part of a race and gardening fashion

Simply Biscotti

There is an old saying and it goes like this-a picture is worth a thousand words.  So here’s a picture of last Friday, mid- morning, when one is beyond full-time work.  This is a glimpse of the ‘next chapter’

An almond shortbread cookie from Simply Biscotti.  It is two cookies sandwiched with almond paste and topped with icing sugar.  It’s dense and rich and large enough to eat half now and half later.  It may not be true morning fair but there’s a reason I went for an early-in-the-day delectable.  I was signed up for the 10 km walk the next day and my walking partner said we had to load up on carbs.  Cookies have carbs, right?  The friend I was walking with has also trained for the West Coast Trail and I think she was very kind to do a little walk with me compared to the arduous trekking of which she is capable.  

I have hardly made a dent in the dessert counter at Simply Biscotti.  And I have yet to have a biscotti…so many good things yet to eat.

On being part of a race

And we did walk in the Ottawa Race Weekend 10 km race the next day.  We were in the group at the back of the pack.  There is lots of excitement in the air.  Downtown is crowded with people.  I arrived early and decided to have a large coffee to kill some time.  We found our place along with thousands of participants and off we went.  This year the course included running or walking through Chinatown and Little Italy.  Did I say I drank a large coffee before leaving?  I was watching for porta-potties.  None to be found.  Somewhere in small print it might have said something about washrooms or about not drinking a large coffee just before you walk.  As we walked through Little Italy and up to Simply Biscotti, I made my second stop of the week.  This stop could have been called more of a pit stop.  We got some cute comments from spectators as we entered and left the building.  We did finish the race-came in 499th-not sure but I think it might be out of 5oo.

Gardening fashion

Our community garden plot is STILL too wet to till but we are hoping this week will change all that.  Our yard at home on the other hand is much different and with our warm weather the past few days it was time to plant, dig up and move and re-plant today.  I went out early to beat the heat.  When I came back into the house my spouse commented on my fashion sense when gardening.  I hadn’t really thought about it…it’s one of those things that just comes together (or not) : orange top, navy shorts, Lee Valley Gardening apron with various tools inserted into pockets, powder blue gardening gloves that go up to the elbow, runners with socks and a red and black International Harvester hat.  Since said spouse was being picked up by a friend later in the morning, I asked if should make myself scarce rather than expose him to the fashion debacle.  “Not necessary” came the reply “I’ll text him and tell him to wear two eye patches”.

Score: Mother Nature 10 or more, Man 1.5

There are many reports of disasters in the news these days-nationally and internationally-flash wildfires, tornadoes and floods.  People have lost their homes, been injured and there have been deaths.  Knowing these facts puts one’s little predicaments in perspective….let’s just call it straight.  A second assault of wee little ants is nothing, if not annoying.

Early this week score-Mother Nature 5, Man 1: The ants coming marching in two by two:  How in the world do ants find their way into a house?  We found another forward party this week-in another place.  Wee little gaffers-after vacuuming and moving things around I saw the tiniest little dark spot in a baseboard and they seemed to be going in and out there.  Outside I searched the foundation and there outside the house at close to the same spot was a little stream of ants going up and down the foundation and slipping under a little ripple of parging.  The parging looks no different from most of the rest along the foundation.  Out came the ant spray, the ant traps, the vacuum and not having a supply of parging material or any idea what it is or how to seal up the hole outside at that moment, I did what many home owners facing this challenge might consider.  As an interim fix, I taped duct tape in that spot.    Duct tape is wonderful.  One day I might swallow my pride and blog about a time when I thought duct tape and balloons might be a temporary fix for a plumbing problems at our cottage.  That initiative was not successful.  We’ll move to what I hope will be a permanent fix on these ants who want to visit, as soon as we figure out what that is.  Anyone got some advice?

P.S.  In one way, we really need to give ants credit.  There can’t be any room for brain in those little bodies but look at how they communicate.  And they do it so well and don’t seem to lose anything in translation.  The message comes through and the march is on.  Compare that our human capabilities-if you’ve ever been part of a teleconference or video conference when things don’t work and we can’t communicate or try to get a message communicated and see how often things don’t come through clearly, well you know what I mean.  Humans could take lessons.

Later this week- score: Mother Nature 10, Man 1.5 : How green is my garden:  We had our first working bee at the garden last weekend.  It remains wet.  Too wet to roto-till say most.  We went at it by hand, picking dandelions and a number of thistles, methinks, Canadian thistles and putting up a little roped off area where we want the (if we ever get dry enough) roto-tiller to stay away.  If you read the link about the Canadian thistle you wonder why Canada got saddled with the thistle-it came from Eurasia.  Why wasn’t it named the Eurasian thistle? Its roots apparently spread 10 feet in every direction each year.  I learned about the root spread from the book Second Nature by Michael Pollan.  My gardening partner has loaned me the book-perhaps to give me an appreciation for what we are up against.  Pollan consulted many field guides and botany books to find a suitable definition of weeds and one he cites is “a weed is an especially aggressive plant that competes successfully against cultivated plants”.  Right now we don’t have any cultivated plants to be competition for the weeds.  As we buy something else to use in the currently bare garden we talk about potential return on investment (outside of the social interaction, the fresh air, the coffee and treat breaks and so on).  We started out talking about the ten-dollar potato-how much each potato would ultimately cost us by the time we harvest it.  We are now up to a fifty-dollar potato-thinking we may only harvest 2-3 potatoes and we haven’t sowed a seed.

We’ve met some of our gardening neighbours including the woman who had our plot previously.  Gardeners are quite a friendly lot-they have advice on lots of things.  Sometimes all you need to do is ask.  It seems sometimes you don’t even need to ask.  They can tell you who they think does a good job of roto-tilling but is too expensive.  Or they don’t believe in roto-tilling, they turn their plot by hand.  Or it’s not too wet to seed. Or yes it is too wet.  We appreciate it all but would really appreciate Mother Nature giving us some sun and wind and a chance to get out on the land on our farm.

Gardening plot unplugged

It’s been a wet and cool spring.  Here it is the long weekend and our new-to-us community garden plot lies un-plowed and un-seeded.  It looks like someone took some care of the plot in the past-there’s a row of mystery flowers, a number of garlic plants, a row of sporadic strawberries and a few raspberry canes.

This is the worst the plot should look-ever

We have a whole bunch of these:

Could we pretend the tens upon tens of these are orchids?

Green Thumb -Chapter Two

Gardener’s weakness-gardening eyes bigger than gardening stomach

My community garden plot partner and I had to exercise some restraint.  She is much more the gardener than I am.  Particularly vegetable gardening.  The last big garden I worked in was on the farm in Saskatchewan a loooooonnngggg time ago.  My Mom would send us out, hoe in hand to hill the potatoes, pull the weeds, pick the peas and beans.  The memory is mostly of dry powdery soil and everyone hoping for rain….obviously the “dry years”.  Hours of weeding and hilling and picking and then eating fresh carrots and beans and new potatoes with dill and beets-it helped diminish the sense of servitude for having to do that work in the garden.  And here we are choosing to do this now and being anxious to get at it.

We started with a planning and coffee session.  We pulled out books and charts that tell you which vegetables make good neighbours and which don’t.  We talked about planting things that suit a garden at a distance from your home-not things that need daily attention.  We sketched out what would go where, how far apart they are supposed to be planted and then we sat back and added it up.  Based on our plans, we would fill 20 of the 50 feet in the garden!  Really?  That’s all?

Armed with this ‘information’ (and you will see later, it was not exact information), off we headed to the seed store.  We had to act as seed counsellors to each other….yes that’s on the list, let’s buy it…no, that isn’t on the list and remember we said we’d try our best to stick to our plan.  But it would be fun to try to grow it!  We were like two chocolate lovers who made a trip to Laura Secord or Bernard Callebaut’s stores and tried to keep to a pre-set list.  Red beets, yellow beets, ready in how many days?  Seed this one into the ground, start that one several weeks before the last frost (oh, oh-not this year).

It’s been very wet and mostly very cool and so there’s been no preparation of the ground.  We’re hoping that will happen this May long weekend-if Mother Nature agrees and we can lasso the local roto-tiller man.  Maybe that’s something I should do next year.  Buy a roto-tiller. I could be the local roto-tiller person.  I could figure out how to book things on-line and go techie (right?!).  It would be moderately strenuous but one could take breaks at the local coffee/bakeshop and generally watch the world go by.

Bringing the garden and its friends, indoors

Dear friends gave us some plants to put directly into the garden-broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and much more.  Lovely healthy plants.  With our cold weather I would put the plants out sporadically but bring them in when it looked close to frost.  Finally I left them out for a period of time and then one cold night decided to bring them in-maybe for the last time before they ultimately make their way to the garden plot.  The next day about noon a family member noticed a small army detail of tiny ants marching from the patio door into the kitchen.  I think they were carrying a little flag-a scouting detail no doubt.  Not just a few, not just 10 but likely 10 X 10.  Wee little guys-on the tile, on the carpet, under the carpet.  Fair to say the reaction was not one of “aren’t they cute!”  I went over to the tray of plants and the towel they were sitting on-and thought——–I wonder if the ants hitched a ride in on the plants.  It seems they did.  We must have an ant hill somewhere outside.  I can tell you they will be hunted down and found.  So the plants are outside for good and until they bring forth their bounty this summer.  They were unwitting accomplices.  The ants are gone from inside the house.

Where are we now?

Last night I had a much closer look at how much seed we have, just how much room it should be given to grow and what that leaves fallow.  The bottom line is there is no fallow-in fact-there’s perhaps not enough room for all we’d like to grow.  Gardening eyes big and bigger than gardening plot.  However, we haven’t even broken ground and as such, the story is far from told.

We would welcome any and all advice.  And if the garden is really bountiful, be careful for if we know your address we may be throwing zucchini into your backyard come fall.

Scotch and chocolate

Recently we attended a scotch tasting hosted by the local chapter of the Opimian Society. The Society is a non-profit wine purchasing cooperative. We belonged to the Society a looooong time ago back on the prairies when chapters were first starting up across Canada.  We re-joined recently and this was our first event with the Ottawa Chapter.   Funny thing, then, that the Society’s recent event was a scotch tasting.  It’s apparently the first time they have ventured away from wine and by the accounts of those assembled (at least at our table), it was well received.

A brief account of a scotch tasting:

Wayne Selci, Ottawa Chapter Secretary was the host for the evening and our guest speaker was Carol Anderson, sommelier.  Carol offers wine and scotch consulting. tastings and events through her business GrapeScot.  Carol gave us some history and background on scotch whisky, how it is made, what various terms mean.  She is knowledgeable and it is a pleasure to learn from her.  She described each of the six scotches we tasted that evening and emphasized that, just as with wines, the best one is the one you like.  The whiskies (which is what Scots call scotch) were paired with tasting plates and we drank scotch with appetizers, a main dish and chocolate.  Five of the six are available at the LCBO, the sixth is available only through the Opimian Society.  If you look them up on the LCBO site, you’ll see that a small tasting of each is a good way to see if you like something before investing in a bottle (in some cases it can be quite the investment!).  At our table of 7, it’s fair to say that preferences were varied.  Some people enjoyed a smokey, heavily peated whisky while others preferred a lightly peated whisky.  

Excerpted from Carol Anderson’s notes for the evening:

  • Malt whiskies are made from only three ingredients-malted barley, yeast and water.  (Growing up on the farm in Sask. when we grew barley all I knew was that it was good for us if our barley “went malting”.  It meant a better price.  Our barley ended up in beer, not scotch.)
  • Single malts are made in one distillery, from multiple casks. Single cask malt is the product of one barrel.
  • Blended malts are 100% malt whiskies that come from multiple distilleries. Blended whiskies contain malt whiskies and lighter-flavoured grain whiskies.
  • The age on a bottle (malt or blend) indicates that of the youngest whiskey used in the blend.
  • ABV-alcohol by volume.  When you see the numbers you’ll know why it’s wise not to drink and drive.
  • Scotches may be aged in variety of oak casks including: sherry, bourbon and new oak. For the first two, that means sherry or bourbon was first aged in the cask and the second renter was scotch whisky.  It’s interesting, once you hear this, you can smell/taste the sherry or bourbon.
There’s an entire flavour vocabulary that goes with tasting and there are a great number of potential descriptors.  This would be what you smell or taste.  Just to give you a flavour of the vocabulary -it could include terms like smoky (ash, bonfires, molasses, turf-burning), sherried (grappa, winey, spirity, rum, sherry), medicinal (antiseptic, Brylcreem, menthol, turpentine) and malty/cereal (oats, malted-milk, porridge).  And as people sip they will often comment on what the drink tastes like to them.  

  1. Appetizers- terrines, chutney and salad with Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV and The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Year Old, Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
  2. Main course-Irish beef stew with Cul na Creagan Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 43%ABV  (Opimian offering and Highland Park 18 Year Old Orkney Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
  3. Dessert-New York style cheesecake and chunks of dark chocolate with Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV and Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 43% ABV.
Barb’s Best:
  • Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV .  I liked the “nose” and found it very smooth.  It has been aged in sherry, bourbon and new oak.
  •  Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV . This was a family favorite.  The whisky has been aged exclusive in oak ex-oloroso sherry casks.  It is bottled at cask strength which means the ABV is not decreased to a certain level before it’s bottled (ergo the 59.5%ABV).  At this level, one should be able to disinfect wounds with it.

After seeing the offering for the evening and the ABV, it’s plain to see why we are encouraged and wise to take a taxi, get a ride, walk or stay in a hotel after the event.

Simply Biscotti

I made a run to Simply Biscotti today.  I met a friend and we both enjoyed an afternoon visit and treat.  We had a little chat with Rosa, the owner.

I won’t get high marks for my photography this time.  I was too busy chatting and not paying attention to details.  It seems that’s pretty much the comments I got from my teacher on my Grade One report card too-too much chatting and not enough time paying attention to details.  Some things never change.

My friend enjoyed a fruit tart-similar to the one I had a while back.  This one was topped with fresh blueberries.  I chose a meringue cookie.  It had almonds inside and was dipped in dark and white chocolate.  The picture doesn’t do it justice.  It was a very light afternoon snack.

Recommendation: if you choose a meringue, be prepared for crumbs and flying bits.  Eat with people you know well-not with a business prospect or on a first date.

Barb’s Best-Boston style

We took a road trip to Boston, Mass. last fall.  Nice place, that Boston.  We enjoyed many of the sights and walked around a great deal.  On the first evening we were strolling along a side street, not far from Boston Common.  It was close to dinner time and we were looking for a place to eat.  We came upon a little bistro place with a decal declaring “Boston’s Best Small Bistro 2010”.  Well, let’s give it a shot we thought.  We were lucky to get seats, we thought, since it was Boston’s Best.  The place did get busy and the food was good.  We left thinking we were fortunate to have stumbled upon the place.

Over the next several days we noticed something peculiar as we continued to walk around.  We saw several Boston’s Best decals-it became a bit of a humorous sighting.  We concluded it was perhaps not the special thing we might have originally thought.  It seemed the designation is given out freely (or maybe you buy it from a Boston’s Best decal shop).   We think the bistro was perhaps Boston’s Best Small Bistro between 3rd and 4th Avenue.  And the dry cleaning shop a few blocks away was Boston’s Best on a Tuesday in October and so on.  On that theme, I figure if Boston can do it, so can I.  So I thought I’d put forward Barb’s Best.  There’s no decal, no jury or panel or Deloitte and Touche, just Barb and what seems to be the Best-at least for that minute or hour or day or month. 

Let’s try a couple:

Best Virtual School-Khan Academy

  • Sal Khan, a former investment banker has established on-line virtual school.  What started out as Sal making a few algebra videos for his cousins has grown to over 2,100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises and assessments covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history.

Best Ice Cream Bar-Magnum

  • Magnum Ice Cream Bars.  They are delicious!  There are several types and not a dud among them.  I’ve seen them in the UK and in Singapore (where a colleague and I ate one a day for a week-because it was so hot there of course).
  • And the really great news is that Magnum Bars are now available in Canada.  If you are really creative you could enter their contest and win a prize valued at $250K!  No kidding, it’s a true story-that’s quite the prize. If you win with the best video (that’s what you need to do, make a short video), I’d appreciate you remembering you learned about it here.  A small remembrance-perhaps a year’s supply of ice cream bars.
If those who follow this blog find this sort of thing interesting, let me know.  I can think of many other Barb’s Best’s e.g. bakery/sandwich shop in an odd location, scotch/food tasting favourites (we happen to be attending such an event soon), italian food/wine match (coming up soon too) and so on and so on.