Saturday, December 14, 2013

Playing With Your Food

Sometimes, all it takes to take an special event up to eleven is a little creativity. This past session, the kids both advanced their belts in karate. In order to celebrate the event, that night's dinner was pushed a little further.
Blue Belt food
Orange Belt food for me and my spouse

Green Belt food
So it was crudite and homemade biscuits with barbeque sauce. Taking an inspiration from something happening around you and just adding a little twist goes a long way into celebrating the ordinary milestones and makes them memorable. If you have picky eaters, it also shows that you can have fun with food. 

You eat with your eyes first. Also, we got to use those cocktail picks...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Soy Sauce Dessert

My wife had an awesome idea the other night at supper. We were having some Chinese bakery buns and my son was trying soya sauce as a dip for them. He didn't like it and the puddle remained until the end of the meal.

For dessert, there were leftover meeting treats, petit fours from Patachou. We teased our son that if he didn't like the cut veggies or buns in the sauce maybe he should try dipping the booze soaked cake into it. It was too late as the cake was gone but my wife had an aha moment. (Not that Aha!)

Now the wheels are turning. Cookies and cake could definitely benefit from salty and slightly sweet sauce. Salted caramel brownies would be another solid choice. Maybe a flavour agent in icing or truffles.

In some ways, aged soya sauce has some similar characteristics to balsamic vinegar. There is a richness and umami depth that makes everything taste better. The only part of the flavour profile that is slightly difficult for some is the saltiness but salt is becoming quite normal in chocolate bars and caramels. I have even seen a recipe for salted creme caramel. I do hope she follows through on some of these ideas.

Just a quick aside, I recently read Maximum Flavor by the Ideas in Food people and it's on my Christmas list. If you go to their site, I have kinda cribbed their style of inspiration post for this one. So, if you like this style of post, go to the pros. Some of their ideas will change the way you look at inspiration and some will change the way you view recipes and food. At worst, you find out what they are thinking about today.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Birthday Breakfasts

Today is the day that we, and I do me we, make the annual birthday breakfast for my wife. Originally, it was a day to celebrate some cooking prowess while the kids pranced around the kitchen and my wife pretended to sleep to the racket. In the past, lobster and butter sauce made the menu but now it has become more sedate to accommodate the skills of the underage labourers.

My ten year old (my gosh, has it really been?) reminded me last night as we were making the final countdown list that he helped a lot last time. He had put the bacon on the hot griddle which was a benchmark moment for him. The youngest is relegated to cracking the eggs and providing some of the first stirs. He is starting to get the hang of it but the first few whisks around the bowl provide more of a tilt-a-whirl effect than breaking the yolks into the whites. There are a few extra minutes used to fish out the shells.

A usual quick breakfast making time extends past the fifteen mark but it means that all those extra minutes are spent with my children. Breathe in, breathe out. Sometimes it is stressful when you are looking for perfection, giving directions and guidance without crushing their pride. It is a delicate balance but something that is easier for me to do in the wee hours of these preparations.

Of course, there is the sloppiness of timing and the eggs weren't quite hot, and the toast had grown cold but the look on my partner's face is worth it. There is always some awkwardness as all four of us try to squeeze onto the bed with our clanking forks on the plates. The bed sheets always need a wash as flecks of grease, eggs, and a truant bacon bit makes its way into the folds along with some Jackson Pollock drips of ketchup. It has become a ritual to mark time. It is a time to celebrate. Sometimes celebrations are messy. Sometimes life is messy. I stole that from a commercial whom I am sure stole it from a famous poet.

The menu varies but it has settled on the following for Mother's Day and Mommy's Birthday.

Scrambled Eggs
Peameal Bacon
Streaky Bacon
Fried Bread (fried in the bacon grease)

Happy Birthday!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grief Cooking

I recently read an article on Paula Wolfert and Alzheimer's in the Washington Post. There is an argument for cooking being a type of therapy. There seems to be a lot of grief around these days. Friends of mine are going through a rough patch as they watch their mother deteriorate. This morning she passed. Her legendary recipe are these cookies that were made every Christmas. I do hope that someone carries it on. Not that they will replicate the recipe but there is something in the doing. Through the practice comes memorial.

December has been a hard month for me traditionally as my father passed in a fishing accident a while back. I've never properly grieved. I'm going through a rough patch right now and my mind turns to cooking. It's not eating but rather the act of repetition, muscle memory and putting the love and ache into the food. While your mind can't do much, your body remembers.

I have made stock for better days, put away leftovers and put together meals with odds and sods. Each meal is an act in survival. Each plate I put before my family is a small offering of love. Where I often find myself not able to give the support as I grieve, I find that the dishes offer a poor stand in. As I work, I begin to heal and slowly I will drift away from my kitchen to be again with my loved ones. The mental and emotional numbness will give way to exhaustion, daily. Then I will begin to feel again and hugs, smiles, and cuddles will flow freely. But now, I work in the kitchen to get to the same point every day. Every day, my body remembers a technique. Every day, the confidence from the kitchen returns a little confidence to the rest of my life.

When all the food is gone, the freezer emptied, and the dishes done, then and only then will I know that the time for grieving is past.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nugget in a Biscuit

Sometimes art imitates life. My wife is going to make an epic meal tonight for all of us based on a YouTube song "Nugget in a Biscuit". The song itself, proclaimed a magnum opus by the artist, takes its own inspiration from having a nugget in a biscuit dipped in mash potatoes and then dipped in barbeque sauce. For supper, we may put on the extended 10 hour loop.

There will be a slight variation, in that mushy peas will be added. I am not sure on whether they will be available separately or folded into the mash potatoes to make them more readily available to the barbeque sauce. I suppose you could also spread them as a layer on the biscuit to provide colour and texture. Who knows?

I am really excited about this project for a few reasons. It is great to pull inspiration from pop culture and reflect it back. As adults, we love themed supper parties such as Oscar parties, Walking Dead viewing parties, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is a nod to kid culture. This is not an advertisement for any restaurant. There is no corporate sponsorship and it is not trying to sell you anything but the unfettered glee of singing the song (and maybe buying it from iTunes). Since it is a simple concept of putting things together that kids especially love (thinking about my kids putting together things such as peanut butter, apple and cheese sandwiches and so on), it allows for a variety of tweaks. You can serve anything mushy to ensure that you can have a full and healthy meal. Most importantly, the song is silly, catchy and fun. The food is silly and fun. I enjoy eating and having fun with my food. This would seriously be a great idea for an adult dinner party.

All in all, this great idea makes me wonder if there are other good food notions in popular culture aimed at kids. We hear about people cooking through Game of Thrones or drinking through Sex in the City but very little on the kid front. I think I'll turn my mind to that as I congratulate my wife on an amazing idea.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Cluttered Kitchen

When I look around my kitchen, sometimes I see too many gadgets or one offs. In many of the comprehensive cookbooks, there is a section on what is needed in the kitchen and having cooked for many years, the quibbles I have with them come from experience.

Everyone cooks just a bit different. I use a particular pair of tongs for so many things that I feel that I should have two pairs for those days when I have so much on the go. There are one or two pans that are my favourites, in terms of size and how they cook. I only own one as they came as part of a set. I should really go and get a few more and let go of the sizes that don't work for me.

Then serving dishes. Never have enough of the ones that I would like and too many that stay on the top shelf gathering dust. Plates, those seem right. All the ones we have are used (except the fancy patterned ones that get brought out at only Christmas or dinner parties).

I guess that part of this musing is due to the advent of the kitchen tool library and reassessing what is needed for regular use and what is needed for those special occasions. Another reason is that, as Christmas approaches, I am reminded of a gift that I got the year my Dad died. He passed just before the holidays and the gift that I received was a convection toaster oven. I have rationalized not using it due to the size of the kitchens where I have lived but in reality, it is probably something more.

We hang on to some objects because they remind of us someone. Think of grandma's wooden spoon or the serving plate that was used for Thanksgiving Day. These are the things that we want to use and love but sometimes just don't. Sometimes we hate them and keep them solely for sentimental reasons. We have all received a gift from a well meaning friend that you will never use.

When I look around my kitchen sometimes I see memories. I look forward to figuring out how to honour the pieces that need to be honoured by making an art project out of them or finding a way to use them. I look forward to decluttering and getting away from pieces that I don't use. I look forward to letting go of those awkward presents from people that are hardly ever used or kept solely because I value that friendship. A kitchen is a place where love needs to flow from, not a graveyard where objects lie unused and neglected. That will be one of my New Year's resolutions this year.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restaurant Review: Couples Resort

This review covers the restaurant that my wife and I dined during our summer vacation. The review of the resort is here but since this is largely a food and beer blog, I felt the dining experience needed its own post.

Each meal is a five course meal where the first is set by the kitchen and the rest are chosen by the diners. The dessert course is always available for taking back to your room.

The first course could be considered a bread and amuse course. We receive bruschetta and some slices of sun dried tomato bread served with sauces – hummus, small shaped butter and oil and vinegar. The shaped plates mimic some of the best type of settings seen in Toronto restaurants. Knock offs of these type of plates are often served at dinner parties where cheaper versions can bought from Bowring. This mandatory course was the only real letdown of the meal on the first night. 

I feared that this place would turn out to be a refined version of Lumina. We choose two more appetizers and a main from the menu plus the features, or in the phrasing of the maître d’, you will choose two appetizers from the menu. He had some kind of authoritarian cant that made you feel you could not refuse. 

The salad was mixed greens with strawberries, kiwi, blue cheese with a citrus vinaigarette. Mixed green salads continue to get a bad rap due to the bagged greens labelled mesclun mix or arugula and others that are ready made at the grocery store. Partially because they are pedestrian and partially that is shows lack of thinking about a dish. This salad was definitely composed with few leaves of butter, red oak, and other chosen greens. It was artfully arranged like all of our dishes in a contemporary style borrowing from French and Japanese and headed towards the new Scandinavian naturalist movement (might be making shit up but I hoped that I was seeing some of these influences because I believe that there is a lot that a destination eatery in the Madawaska and Muskoka area could take from Noma). 

Another dish was a slice of cold boar that had been tequila glazed was served on some apple puree and fresh pea shoots. I wonder what could be taken from the area that might have brought some extra and surprising pop – juniper berry jus, pickled spruce tips, maybe this is just a missed opportunity. Soup – smoked boar and potato – arancini showing the Italian influence. Crisp, slightly brown interior with creamy rice and stuffing centre accented with two sauces.

I selected an Algonquin martini to go with my first two choices where the pineapple juice played off the pork. The beer list while listing a local brewery in rural terms first, had little more than a small curated list. It seems that this is another missed opportunity. Fine dining and beer can and should go together. With a continental menu such as this, it would be good to put some bier de garde, champagne beer, Italian artisanal beer and some Belgian stalwarts on the menu. If you want to go with local and make some creations around it to play up the area. River Walker from Lake of Bays only 50 minutes away, has ginger and lemon as the main notes, the mocha porter has rich coffee notes that would work great with a rich stew that the upcoming season could bring. Venison and chocolate could work quite well.

The mains included a pork tenderloin from a named farmer served with coconut rice (basically a risotto). The pork was cooked in the medium category but could have been cooked a little less  in the medium rare category. Given the mix of clientele, we were told that some patrons were distrustful of a rarer pork. There was a little bleeding meaning that it had been inadequately rested but it was delicious. I had a whiskey sour with bitters added. It worked well but I could have used a biere de garde spiced strongly with black pepper or tinged with apple.

My wife’s beef tenderloin came with a warning to all guests that it would not be cooked past medium rare as it would ruin the meat. This was only one of a handful of notes given to the diners to help educate or bemuse depending on their eating history. It was an interesting dynamic to see the servers navigate this territory of being too pedantic or causing anxiety in the diner. They did a good job overall of making the guests at ease. The tenderloin was presented in a tower style that many foodies consider passé but it can still be done with charm. This tower did not overreach and worked well with interleaving polenta rounds. The polenta was seasoned with something that my wife doesn’t normally like but it provided a moreish quality to the beef that made it non offensive to my wife. It was served with a ratatouille. The ratatouille was a slight false note as all the elements appeared to be in a tiff and not talking to each other but swimming in the same demi-glace. That is a stupid way of saying that the flavours hadn’t melded together and each element tasted like the vegetable they were and a little too al dente. If they hadn’t been described as ratatouille, it would have been a lovely vegetable accompaniment to the meal.

Desserts: peach cake – lived up to the description but compared to the rest of the meal needed a little extra – garnish, spiced with cardamom. Something else to make it sing. While my wife went for the sweets, I went for the savory with a cheese plate. It included smoked gouda, bleu, and something else that didn't make it into my notes. There was fruit but it was superfluous. Crackers were flavoured with cheese that didn’t work well with the chosen cheese or port.

The bar of being a five star resort is what made these picky picks noticeable. I would love to have this meal again. Sure, some tweaks would make it better but the location, the event and the work that went into making this meal made it special.

Breakfast (not required to dress up)

Served by an older staff set, food matched our clothes. Casual and more or less tasteful depending on the diner. Included Muesli, Eggs Benedict with dill cake and tomato salad. The frittata came with an explanation of what a frittata was. Solid meal.
Night #2

The amuse was a gazpacho shooter that had a bit of spice at the end. It was a basic gazpacho where the cucumber was clear and most of the solids had been either strained out or pulverized. I had a White Owl with that and it worked well. Kind of like a bloody Caesar works.

Our salad course was noteable for the Caesar that my wife had. The Caesar was a different beast from the overdressed bottled dressing tasting mess at Lumina. In this case, the dressing was homemade and the anchovies were present and clear. It was a good salad.

For the appetizer, I had difficulty with choosing between frog legs and baked brie with a raisin sauce. Ended up choosing the brie. For these three courses of salad, brie and my main, I had a Mad Tom IPA. The beer would have worked better with the frog legs and pineapple. The sweetness in the sauce contrasted with the hoppiness of the beer in a slightly unpleasant way but this was my mistake.

For the main, my wife had the salmon with crisp skin, cooked perfectly and served with lemon aioli and thyme scented rice. I swear I could taste a hint of licorice but that may have been my expectations messing with my head. I tried the pasta with chicken and shrimp and chipotle cream sauce. The chipotle was too subtle for this almost Cajun take. The beer was okay but needed the heat. It provided a tongue scrapper to break through the fat in the cream.

For dessert, I ordered the Canadian coffee with rye and maple syrup. My wife had the tower of chocolate which is described inadequately on menu. I had the apple and blueberry strudel with a spiced coulis. The pastry could have used a little work or to be accurate a little less work and the filling was too spiced. When a place uses such a deft hand in spicing in the whole meal but doesn`t let the ingredients work the same way in the desserts, it suggests that the chef`s expertise is not pastry and desserts. The first bite and last bite are two of the most important parts of the menu. Hence, the use of an amuse. It may be that most couples staying at the resort do not eat the dessert in the dining room but take it back for later and so the last bite at the restaurant is the main but even so a little more refinement on the dessert could really put this over the top.

I would go to this resort for the food alone. It is pleasant to see the gardens along the back of the property and what a joy it would be to go and eat, knowing that some of your food is just steps away. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Restaurant Review: Lumina Family Resort

This review covers the restaurant that we, as a family, dined during our summer vacation. The review of the resort is here but since this is largely a food and beer blog, I felt the dining experience needed its own post.

The process of seating and ordering was an interesting one. Each family was assigned a place to sit and given a menu where they were to identify by check or circle what they wanted. Breakfast and supper were included in the inclusive part of the vacation. There was very little need for lunch given the portions served at breakfast and supper. Always available at lunch were snacks and light lunch from the onsite snack bar.


Breakfasts were three courses. There was always some muffins on the table to take the edge off. These were mostly good with a touch of sweetness, never to veer off into Starbuck sugar coma territory. Of the four that we had, there was only miss due to an overabundance of fruit and a caramelly brown sugar undertone.

The Second course being a choice between being some variant on cold cereal, warm cereal or fruit. The choices of cold cereal were of those variety packs put out by Kellogg’s with such greats as Frosted Flakes, Cheerios, etc. 

The third course on the breakfast included a standard type protein rich option whether it be egg muffin, an egg with toast and hash browns, or sausages with pancakes, or waffles or French toast depending on the day. Breakfast was definitely fuel for the day ahead.


Suppers were a little more interesting. Remembering that this was a family resort, there was always a kid friendly option, which our kids only partook once, being they were seriously low on their pizza quotient for the week. There was also a nightly vegetarian option that looked as if it was added for the burgeoning teenage vegetarian. It was often some variant form of cheese pasta and sauce.

The menus tended to be carbohydrate and meat heavy. I overheard more than one person complain about the amount of bread being served, especially at breakfast. These menus looked as if they were slightly out of touch with the current trends and fads in restaurants. This is not always a bad thing. It is a shame though as some of the best bites we had were vegetables. But then again, vegetables done right are a treat.

Nightly Menus

On our first night, the buffet had sad cabbage rolls, roast beef, lentil bean side dish, over cooked large shrimp that were poorly cleaned, strawberries, blueberries, Caesar salad, a dessert bar with various cakes, and cheesecakes.  

Night 2: the first course had the salad or an excuse for a salad. Little thought was taken with the slice or two of cucumber with a few leaves of romaine, the odd bit and bite of tomato and dressed like a trollop. This was a vegetable crime. Second course trout with lemon sauce and snap peas and rice. 

Night 3: BBQ night that was spoiled by the barbeque being broken. Still, on went the show with grilled steak that was cooked medium, baked potatoes with fixings, corn (that was the vegetable), and the ‘Lumina’ baked beans that tasted as if a can opener had been involved.

Night 4: I had some chicken parm type thing with capers while my wife and kids had red snapper. It was cooked better than the lake trout. Broccoli was on the side, and barely cooked. This is the danger of vegetable cooking, and I suppose with meat as well. Either cook it just until it is done or cook the shit out of it. Mine was raw and unyielding to the knife while my wife’s worked fine. The kids had pizza. Consistent with other kids entrees, it lacked interest. A small round with tomato sauce and cheese. I suppose we are lucky that are children had adult meals all through the week, as they normally eat what we are having minus the salad. My one kid had a real like for arugula lately, and will eat salad containing it. The other child, will eat most salads, as long as there is fruit to mellow the harsh bitterness of greens. The dessert of the night was a Muskoka butter tart. I am not sure what made it a Muskoka butter tart but it may have been made locally at the butter tart ‘factory’ as the tart was cool. My wife’s had a bit of run to it while mine had none. There were raisins but the filling seemed to lack the robust rich flavour of butter.

On Friday night, we were told there was a buffet that required dressing up. ‘Hope you brought your best powder blue suit. I’m serious.’ quipped one of the regulars, who had been coming to the resort for the last eleven years. We missed that. I’m not sure that the blue suit reference was due to the fact that the food seemed to live in the perpetual high school of the late 70’s or a reference to the clientele of being of a certain age and social location where the best suit we would own would be that dusty prom suit. Just for the record, I own three suits. One being a modern Sean Paul suit, a 1990's era tuxedo, and a vintage re-tailored 1950's  blue pinstripe worn for my wedding and still stylish and serviceable for today as it has come back around into fashion or so I like to believe.

It may seem that I didn't enjoy the food or alternatively, hated it but it wasn't that. The food seemed stuck in a time. In that time, it would have been somewhere in the middle of the pack. I suppose I would feel the same way if I went to a Ponderosa or the Old Spaghetti Factory some time this week. A bit of nostalgia, surprise at the odd good dish that should come back and a sense of how food culture changes over time with fads and diets. Are we eating better now? I think so, but I am sure that someone will look back on this time and wonder at why we ate the way we eat now.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Our Summer Vacation - Couples Resort

This is the second part of our summer vacation where we took our kids to my mother's place and went to the Couples Resort. We traveled from Lumina through Algonquin Park and onwards to my mother's in Barry's Bay. Later that day, we came back to stay.

The first part chronicled the Lumina Family Resort and this part will cover memories from the trip through the park and the Couples Resort.

Algonquin Driving Trip

On the entrance from the Dwight side of the park, there was a sign for park reform and one for the logging museum. Algonquin Park is the largest park for logging. My father logged outside the park in Mattawa and Deux Rivieres which was pronounced like doreeveer. He also did work inside the park including working for a long time in Kiosk. He would stay in a lumber camp for the week and return on weekends.

In the 1880's, lumber barons convinced the government to give away huge plots of land near the park to attract immigrants, mainly Polish and Irish. Many, not being able to farm the land due to the Canadian Shield, turned to working in the bush. The names in the park such as Killarney reflect the Irish influence. There are derivations of Native names such as Cache Lake, Lake of Two Rivers, and of course, the name Algonquin. I haven't found any Polish names in the park.

Often bits of literature on logging will talk about shantymen and shanties as if they don't happen anymore. Not more than twenty years ago, there were still logging camps where groups of men spent the week, taking turns at cooking. Sometimes it would be game after hunting season or the odd fish but mostly, anything form bologna to steak would find their way onto wood or propane stoves.

Couples Resort

This is a Canada Select 5 star resort that makes note of its surroundings in a particular way.  Local magazines talking about art galleries, including the owner’s own onsite gallery. The proximity of Algonquin park brings out the Ontario Parks paper, and brochures on the Group of Seven, and Algonquin art centre exhibit on the Canadian shield. It even mentions the logging museum where some of the exhibits show some of my family members and their machines.

-       Totally different feel than Lumina. The noises, for one, are radically different. No boozy shindigs nor slamming doors that you often find in a hotel. You can hear the occasional footfall but largely only the hum of the fan, or quiet motor of the hot tub and fridge. You can hear the sounds of nature. The lawns are more manicured with spots of curated local flowers bricked in patches to break up the solid green. The main part of the property feels like a slice of suburbia without the car focus has landed along the lake front. Every view from the rooms are designed to feel private. 

This is a spa and there is the luxury of water and electricity. There is in our room, not the most luxurious or expensive, a steam shower, a Jacuzzi, a hot tub, and other standard amenities, toilet and two sinks. The whole compound is heated with solar panels, low flow toilets, and the design of rooms make them dark and all have ceiling fans and fireplace. There are reminders of how rural septic systems work with notes stating not to throw Kleenex into the toilet. There are nature walks with bike rentals available so that you can easily ride to the park. Hiking trails can get you there, albeit, slower but when you are so relaxed and trying to reconnect with your partner, this might be the right speed. There are notes everywhere and manuals available for the finding. A nice presentation binder with how the place operates is open and waiting for you. The one weirdness was finding a K-cup which doesn't quite seem to fit with the attention given to the environment but does speak to standard luxury.

The spa uses all natural products. There is a salt water pool that my wife got to try before the rain began. Once again, I let my embarrassment at not being able to swim impede my enjoyment. I wished I had gone in. My wife also had a massage. This is truly a spa experience that allows you to customize your relaxation.

There is an on site gallery and museum. Sports galore. Kayaking, cycling, horsebacking riding, Several at an additional fee. There is no tipping required as an 18% gratuity is included as a surcharge. 


The names of the rooms are a little offputting. We stayed in Exotic India. It feels slightly colonial but in fact is not as tacky or racist as it sounds. I suppose there is some evocation of India with prints of the tiger and elephants wandering across the top of the bamboo wallpaper but the African like masks make you wonder… The whole idea of luxury in a part of the world where poverty is one of our first thoughts and probably wrongfully so. The rest of the rooms in our building are named after African nations.  The room here is bigger than the two adjoining rooms we stayed at in Lumina.


The menus and the wine list still have the old name of Bear Trail Inn embossed on the covers. The maître d’ and staff for the evening meal are young looking and seem to be fairly fresh from culinary arts, either hospitality, sommelier or some other discipline. Initially, there appears to be some stilted formality that warms as the night gets older. This is not helped by our first impression of our maître d’ who hails from just outside of Mattawa, a place where my father logged when I was younger. 

He has a delivery that suggests this is a rote speech that he delivers every night using phrasing that while aid recall deliver a little like a SNL parody of an Austrian dimplomat. This is the way that service in the dining room works. You will… and so on. I suppress a giggle and appreciate the effort. Not everyone who will find themselves in this place where a dress code is enforced will have had a chance to do fine dining. In some ways this is not only training grounds for the fresh fellows but also for the young newlyweds, suburban professionals, and small city dwellers who are close enough to make this a special occasions spot to get away from their lives and focus on each other. 

I will review the restaurant in a subsequent post as it deserves specific attention.

Other Thoughts

Look, the name couples resort may bring to mind some Nordic swingers club or a dirty weekend but I found it relaxing and a time to reconnect with a significant other. There is no feeling of prurience but when you get relaxed, things happen. This is a good place with its focus on the couple. There are extra events but they are things like horseback riding and love poetry competitions. Things that I wish I had done but with only a two night stay, didn't want to take time away from the relaxing. I would recommend this place for nature lovers, spa lovers or just lovers.

The last two posts to cover the summer vacation will be restaurant reviews of the Couples Resort and Lumina. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Our Summer Vacation - Lumina Family Resort

Sitting in a resort room while my kids and wife go about the activities, I am left with some interesting observations. The observations are coloured with memories of my childhood and are reflected into my current experiences.

We are staying at one of a handful of all inclusive resorts in Ontario, as I have failed, once again, to get my new passport. I’ve only travelled a handful of times outside of Canada and indeed outside of my birthplace. It is strange then, to be vacationing near where my dad worked and just a short trip to my hometown.

When I was growing up, my mother took on many jobs, some of which were quite busy in the summer. She spent some time working as a cook, both in a resort and in a chip truck. Another set of summers saw her working in housekeeping in another inn not too dissimilar to this one. I remember the times when she came home from work exhausted. There were a few occasions that I went to work with her when my cousin or aunt or grandmother could not make it to babysit. This is why I find my current situation of being at a resort for the first time not far from where my mother spent some of her summers working a bit jarring.

In truth, I have always had trouble vacationing. My parents while not immigrants, lived in an area of Ontario that leaves a little to be desired in terms of economic development. Many families are living near the poverty line and definitely raise their kids within the 3500 to 4000 dollars a year that was recently suggested by the Frasier institute. Vacationing is not something that lower income people have the privilege of doing.

Skip forward. I live in Toronto in an income bracket that could be considered middle high to low upper income. We live just off the Beach which is one of the more affluent areas in Toronto. We live below our means using the combined skills of my wife’s innate frugalism and my life experience of subsistence living. My wife has been requesting that we finally have a proper vacation rather than a weekend away at Great Wolf Lodge or renting a cottage where we do all the work. Her ideal is to lie on the sand, in the sun with a good book and plenty of activities for the children to be kept busy and happy. It is easier to relax when planning has been taken out of your hands. You do not have to respond to requests of alleviating boredom. Our compromise was a split vacation where we spent half the week in a family resort and the other half in a couples resort in Ontario. It is a way of lowering the frog into the warm water, a metaphor that is patently false. Hopefully, the experience doesn’t bear that out.

The Resort

Lumina is located on Lake of Bays near Dwight. It has been around for almost a hundred years and is just outside Algonquin Park. You get activities, meals and maid service in almost wilderness. It is the biggest cottage resort on Lake of Bays. 

The clientele consists largely of middle income surbanites looking for a time for their kids to play safely. The mantra "We do it for the kids" comes up often in conversations. Greater than 60 per cent of the people here are returning families. They live their life, a few weeks at time during the year at vacations such as this. They kid themselves with saying that they are not so competitive the rest of the year but it is a different kind of competitiveness. The Jones’ syndrome lives but they do not recognize it.  

There is a little to begrudge them in spending their hard earned dollars from their white collar jobs of teachers, working in various government ministries, accounts and managers and the like. These are the same people with Costco memberships and this is their Costco vacation. Some of these people would be in the same demographic as Ford Nation. Politics is heard occasionally but only in subdued tones late at night while sharing beers on the patio.


5 bucolic cowbells ring to structure the day: 8:30 breakfast, 10 am activities for the different age groups, many resulting in trophies of mugs or t-shirts. 2:00 pm for afternoon activities, generally for the kiddies, 5:30 for supper, ahem dinner, and 7:00 pm for final kids activities. A silent bell is heard by every adult at 9:00 pm for the beginning of the adult only activities. Local music, euchre, darts and pool are commonly on the list. There are sign up sheets for every special activity.

It seems odd that many leave their 9-5 structured days, along with the structured kids’ activities of hockey, ballet, tennis, swimming, piano and so much more to go and get away from it all where structure is key.  All this structured time exists with competitive middle class games or skill such as ping pong, lawn bowling, pool, and tennis. These are all activities that many of the staff from the surrounding areas would consider upper class frills and perks. As young kids growing up in the area we could not afford such structured activities, I can not skate nor swim. Skating was expensive and there was little time to do these activities. 

never learned to swim in this land of lakes. The idea of a pool was only for the wealthy. I did spend some time at lakes on weekends here and there.  Once, one of my friends had an above ground pool from Canadian Tire that eventually collapsed only a year or two in. 

A pool; this resort that plays on the rustic has a pool. In my childhood, I would consider that only rich people could afford to go here. I am wrong. 

We end up spending most of our time here. The kids have already spent a week at a cottage elsewhere and prefer the warmer temperature of the pool. I can hide my unease and embarrassment of not being able to swim by practicing floating with a noodle while my wife gets her poolside reading done.

Most activities are group activities. Even the free time ends up with grouping along the shores of the lake. Growing up with the lake so near and not being able to get to it seems to be a recurring theme in my life. We live near Woodbine Beach in Toronto but rarely go down. The crowds dot the dirt and squeeze the pleasure of the surf from me. Muskoka seemed like a faraway word describing a faraway world that turned out to be like the Secret Garden, right next door. Tales of million dollar houses made my eyes into saucers and further distanced Muskoka from my everyday life growing up. Pictures by the esteemed Group of Seven seemed familiar but the way people talked of it seemed like some mystical place where individuals strove to find themselves alone inside the wilderness. Algonquin Park, 45 minutes from where I grew up and less than 30 minutes from the resort was this land painted and revered. Meanwhile, notes to remember to turn on the lights, group activities and mass swarms along the beach are wrought by those revering the mystical word Muskoka. 

It is funny to see a place so dependant on nature, ignoring the environment. My mother is the same. When you are so close to the trees, you see the leaves on your lawn, the inconvenience of the wildlife and the inherent dangers. Bears are no longer a photo opportunity. Moose are more dangerous than another roadside attraction. This lodge was built in a time where the concerns of nature had not been put forward before the greater society. Low flush toilets have not been heard of here.


On the first night, a fawn was seen in the bush beside the dining room. So many people dodge and point. A minor interest is created away from the roast beef buffet. Many of the locals and other vacationers from the area come based on the reknown of the Sunday buffet. The fawn is eventually spooked by someone coming from one of the cabin encircling the main lodge. Two days later, I see scat and flies on the lake facing lawn near the ladder ball court. I tell no one. If I was at home, I would take a shovel and put the small round turds into the bushes. My fear is that this would be put into the garbage like much of the other wastes such as grass and stuff.

My mom worked in several resort kitchens. My mother would sometimes copy recipes down. Exotic names like Steak au Poivre, dinner rolls, and others forgotten by me over the years. I now know that many of these dishes were already tired classics at the time but as a child in the late 70s and early 80s in rural Ontario, they seemed as if they belonged in another world. Dallas, the tv show about Texas millionaires nay billionaires was popular at the time and I imagined steak dinners every night for them served with escargots and all those other dishes. Some of these dishes show up on the menu. 

The food at Lumina is above diner food and probably is in line with what we are paying. I will review the restaurant in a separate post. It kind of deserves its own spotlight.

The bar is all standard booze. Even though two local breweries are close by, only one has representation and  the weakest products at that. Very few Canadian or craft brews make their life here. In fact, it seems that localness is left out. There are amazing local goods such as beer, ice cream, desserts, ginger ale and others but none are highlighted. In Toronto, these brand names are nostalgia items that garner a premium. In spite of all that, the bar does brisk business as it does at any cottage.


Looking at Lumina resort, I can see some of the same tensions that my mother spoke about during her working days. There is a natural split between long term local workers who use these jobs to feed their families versus the young adults working away from home and taking board at the resort.

Most of the teenagers and young adults are working for a way out, saving for University or college or just getting some cash for their upcoming wedding. Many of these workers live on site. Their quarters are in the main building above the kitchen. While it is admirable that there is no air conditioning, that must be the hottest spot on the site. If only older thinking of either putting the kitchen in an outbuilding or placing it on the highest floor had been done. Not much changes from year to year. Their summer may be filled with romance, after hours party while their days are filled with serving. The time off is scant, so any chance to relieve stress is filled.

A young bartender comes from the same cluster of small towns and hamlets that I come from. We know the same families but at different generations. It is the equivalent of dog sniffing and we know who each other is by their family. He left the small town to finish high school in Toronto and moved to Hamilton. He has found himself close to home for the past two years. He spends the whole summer without a day off, smiling and serving strangers to him but long time family to the lodge. At the ending of the season, he is a little less attentive but the regulars love him and he will be asked back again and again.

The cleanliness of the rooms would bother my mother who would consider the filth of the city folk sometimes including cases of empties and the occasional improperly discarded condom. I find myself judging to these standards even though my own house could not past maternal muster.

Left behind an armoire, a sweetart and an used Q-tip lie waiting to be cleaned. My son observes that these rooms must not have been used for a while as there is dust lying on some of the surfaces. We share adjoining rooms. Somewhere I have a picture of a bottle opener that I occasionally use to pop some beer tops.

One of the regulars notes that it is a 2 star resort with 5 star people. I assume he means clientele but in my more charitable moments realizes that he means staff.

Last Thoughts

The delivery and service trucks come every day. Propane, appliance repair, sysco all bring the things close from home. Home of the visitors. Very little is from the area. Red snapper, roast beef, chicken are all shipped in. This can almost be forgiven due to the hardship of farming in the area. Most farms are subsistence but if the net is flung farther then Barrie, King City and others could supply what is needed. Not even the trout served one night is from a local source.

All of this is done to provide value but at what cost. This is the echoes that I hear when going travelling. Granted, in Canada, the difference between middle class and lower class is only slight. When travelling to foreign countries, it is much greater. Often I hear this described as white guilt. I am a white male but due to my history, I can see both the server and the served.

When we leave to go to drop the kids off at my mother's, I have mixed feelings. I only started to enjoy the vacation by the time we left. I feel conflicted but can understand why someone would choose this as a vacation. I wonder if I will ever see this place with my family again. 

In some ways, maybe this is a middle class longing to have a permanent vacation in the Muskoka’s? My son asks at dinner time over the final dessert of the trip if we could live here all the time. The conversation revolves on how we could not do that. I never reach back into my past and explain that I did live here. The here that I know is so far away from carefree days of pool, capture the flag and served meals. I never did live here.

Next posts will include Lumina restaurant review, a trip through the park, Couples Resort and Couples Resort restaurant review. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beer Flavoured Coffee, 2nd Attempt - Part 1

As you can see by the title, this is my second attempt at making beer flavoured coffee. The first fiasco can be found here. I was trying to make a monsooned style coffee and it didn't work particularly well but it gave me enough hope to try again.

So, what am I doing this time? Starting out with green Costa Rica Amistad beans and splitting it out into two preparations involving soaking beans at different parts of the process in Beau's Lugtread. Why Lugtread? Nice malt base with some sweetness and a bit of light fruit. It should not have too much bitterness to overwhelm the coffee. The coffee tasting notes themselves have citrus and hints of cocoa. I am roasting the coffee somewhere between a light and a medium roast.

First Preparation: Take 200g green beans and soak in Lug Tread until swollen. Dry out beans. Roast to desired roast then grind as needed. I'm going to take better measurements as I go along such as, added 1/2 bottle to green beans and the weight after drying, etc, but this is the general idea.

Second Preparation: Take 200g green beans and roast to desired roast (5.9 at high heat and medium fan). Wait overnight and then soak. Will probably soak for the same amount of time. Dry and then grind. I might end up drying the beans in both cases in the oven as I don't want the roasted beans to become stale. I do expect that the beer will prevent oxidation.

Anyways, just a goofy experiment to see where this all goes. I have also kept back a few green beans to roast as a comparison.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Drink Mass Market Beer?

So, recently I have had a few mass market beers. The people that I was with were surprised by my choices and questioned my beer acumen. Also, got a little ribbing from untappd friends. It may surprise some people but I am not much of a beer snob in terms of not drinking this or that just because it is mass market. I'm the same way with food.

I would like to have the best of what's available but there has to be a way to enjoy what is in front of you. These applies to life in general. It does not mean settling or making do but rather to enjoy an experience on its own merits.

To put it another way, don't let the lack of good food and beer ruin a birthday barbeque for a friend. Relax, enjoy and soak it in. The friend is more important that drinking mediocre or even shitty beer. Next time, offer to bring a case of something that is close to the style of beer. Pass it around but don't be a douche. That's my job.

I tasted Bud Light Lime Mojito for the first time because I was curious how it became popular other than the marketing. After drinking it, it made me think of a poorly made Desperados or a beer cocktail. I get why people would like it. I get why people wouldn't make this concoction of lime, mint and splash of spirits at home. I didn't like it but at some summer dinner party, I would consider introducing a few people to a similar beer cocktail or a decently made punch bowl of mojitos.

Anyways, after all that ado, here is a list of reasons on why a craft beer drinker should try mass market beer.

  • it`s what is at the bar/wedding/party/mitzvah/bbq/whatever
  • you are broke
  • you are broke and want to get drunk
  • remind yourself why you like craft beer
  • important to understand why something is popular so that you can continue to be an evangelist for craft beer (there's a reason why the Catholics were really good at their conversion rates)
  • sometimes, it`s okay to have a refreshing beverage on a warm day and not to give a fuck
  • not be a douche bag when someone offers you something they genuinely enjoy. Figure it out.
  • keep an open mind and see what the big boys are doing (Alexander Keith`s Hop Series, Blue Moon, and Beer Academy) 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hallowe'en Food

I have always loved Halloween. I have not had the best time celebrating it in the last few years and let me explain.

Growing up in a rural area meant driving around to houses of people that you more or less knew. You would get dressed up in your finery and pop out of the car and go to a house. Most times, the houses were too far apart and you would have to get back into the car to be driven a little more to get to the next house.

I remember a few missteps, like the time we thought the light was on at a house and it turned out to be the glow of a television of an elderly couple. We stood there waiting as they rummaged through their cupboards and came up with a small handful of peanuts for my sister and I.

Eventually, I moved to a big city and Halloween became a big deal where you dressed up and became something different. Everyday is Halloween became a mantra as we went from bar to house party and back home. The food at the party was always cheesy and good enough for twenty somethings eating drunk.

Skip forward. Married with kids in a really big city. Never having gone trick or treating here, I have left the taking of the kids out to my wife while I stand at the door giving out candy. I'm tired of not being involved in this pageant and parade. This year, I am taking my inner freak and going out with the kids. We will leave treats at the door and hope there is no fiend feeding frenzy on our steps. We hope not to see blissed out tricksters gorged when we come back, but you never know.

Every year there is a pre-spooking party where we have a selection of food that is definitely a step up from the food I had in my twenties. I can't help but feel that Halloween as a food holiday gets short shrift. Most of the food expressions are about how gross you can make something look. While that puts most of the foodie mantra of eating with your eyes on its head (eyes on the head sounds like a meatloaf presentation waiting to happen), there is still no specific dish that exemplifies the holidays.

Where is the turducken? Where is the Christmas cake? Where is the Easter ham? I mean there is plenty of candy but that just seems like a default lowest common denominator. If you don't have anything else, at least there is the candy.  See what I mean?

Strangely, I don't have anything but the observation. I would guess that it would have to be a fall dish that doesn't look very good but tastes amazing. Some type of witches brew of a stew to take before heading out to trick or treat.

But there is another option that has always held a special place for me and that is the more traditional festivals that takes place at this time. Samhain and All Soul's Day (Day of the Dead) occur around this time and it is for reflection on those who have passed. It is also the harvest season passing into winter darkness. Food and drink are left out for the departed to partake on these days. Since it the days of slaughter, meat is plentiful, and nuts and apples abound. Maybe this is the day to set out a plate for a loved one that has passed? A favourite meal of a recently departed may be the way to get back to the reflection on death, dying and then going out and lampooning with mummies, vampires, and zombies.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Defining Bad Beer, Part 4


It has been a while since posts, so for those who can't follow the bouncing red ball or do not have photographic memories or are just showing up now, here is the recap. In the first part of this series on trying to define bad beer, I made the argument that unspoiled mass produced beer that did not taste bad was not enough to define bad beer. In the second part, I argued that aggregate sites such as bulletin boards, beeradvocate, ratebeer and untappd were biased towards micro and craft brews and at best could help you find a candidate for bad beer. In the third part, I took a look at beer judging and how its focus was to help brewers get better by judging the beer by the category that the brewer said it was looking to achieve.

Wow, that last post is a month past. I've had some time to reflect on where I thought this series was going to go and... well, it has been interesting. Two other bits that have added to my reflections are the study that came out about ratebeer and beeradvocate. Bunch o' links here...
Amateurs to Connoisseurs ,
Amateurs to Connoisseurs - The Powerpoint,
Understanding Rating Dimensions,
Understanding Rating Dimensions - The Slides
The papers are more on product and product recommendations but some of the conclusion of the first paper resonate with what was posted in the second part of this series.

The other bit adding to my reflections was a comment made by David Ort on his trailer for his Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook. He makes the personal observation that craft beer " delicious beer that's made by people who are proud to drink the beer and emphasize flavour over any other goal."

These two bits nicely bookend where I thought I was going with this series when I began it. At the end of the day, there is the drinker and the drink in front of them. What affects the individual drinker when drinking the brew and what affects the brewer when brewing the brew?


I suppose that a lot of what a person decides is based on their own experience and where they are in their journey towards expert drinkers. That is some of what the above papers are looking at but there is a whole raft of perceptual biases that affect one's ability to judge. In a large group, I suppose that biases will be dampened down somewhat. This isn't to defend the tyranny of the majority but it is to say that it is mostly inoffensive.

One of the more interesting experiments that I heard of recently (and can't find the link) where a person was given the same product and tasted both, would develop a preference between the two. It's just something we do as human beings.

The other factor that has perked my interest has been the idea of educating palates, whether it be ratebeer or a buddy telling you that you have to try this, and craft beer is a little about that. It drives the idea that anything in opposition to that is not good.

So for a drinker to define a bad beer, it will be:

  • in regards to the lowest thing that they have tasted, 
  • where they are in their experience, 
  • a bunch of other bias such as what was their first beer, last beer, worst beer memory, 
  • and what level of expertise they are at.

Why do brewer's brew beer? To drink and to make a profit. To suggest that craft beer exists only in terms of taste is to ignore a truth. If they can't make money, they won't be there long. Most small brewers charge a premium for their product because the market will pay it, the brewery is at capacity and the ingredients require a mark up.

Craft brewers often make a bad batch of beer due to issues of experiments gone wrong or production line issues. This doesn't make their beer bad.

A lot of words in this essay have been spilled on intention, as in does the beer meet the intention of the style or the brewer. On the whole, a beer can't be bad if it meets the style requirements. There are always exceptions and the most obvious one to this statement is wild beers. If you are making a brew based totally on the environmental factors, well, things might turn out the way the brewer intended but still taste good.

There are basically three considerations for the brewer in terms of this bad beer discussion: ingredients, profit, and taste. I figure that if some aspect is ignored, the result is bad beer or bankrupt brewer. So big corporations that look for the cheapest ingredients to maximize profits and decide mostly by boardroom then we are definitely looking at bad beer possibility.

What makes a beer bad?

I guess I have dithered long enough on this question, so here is my answer:

  • first priority profit with little regard to taste (beer by committee),
  • a good number of "ordinary" drinkers actively dislike beer with few people who like it,
  • and will probably not be on the shelf for long
So there it is. It seems that by this definition there is very little bad beer but probably a lot of mediocre brews. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cask Days 2013 List

I just took the list from the website and put it into excel. I haven't yet made my picks for tomorrow. I will be attending Breakfast and Session 1.

Here it is.

Just click on the to Download button. Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Somewhere along the line growing up, I have forgotten what Thanksgiving is all about. Sure, the one that we celebrate can be said to be on the backs of a genocide but there is something to be said for taking time out every year to be thankful.

There are many harvest festivals around the world that celebrate the end of summer and fall and the descent into winter. Thanking on one hand and preparing for the cold winter on the other. Every year brings births and deaths, new friends and old enemies.

Food is tied up in this festival as it is normally the time that the farmer's could afford to feast on all that could not be saved for the winter. If you have ever canned, you may remember cursing these long hot nights trying to get the jam done or getting those last few pickles down or cursing the last batch of zucchini relish. We are returning to this notion of seasonality and now that there is a season for everything. I have learned to be grateful for these small inconveniences as they will serve you well in the winter.

In the summer, many beer could not be made before the advent of refrigeration. Craft beer has moved to this model as well. Cask days will be coming soon as a celebration of that old style of brewing.

On a personal note, this past year has been rough but I think things are turning a corner. Last year, I got tendonitis in both my arms which impacted my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I found it hard to cook and do stuff with my kids. Maybe I went into too much of a shell. This fall, with physio and a change of outlook partially due to not being able to do things like throw a ball, hold a hockey stick or a knife, I am finding new joy in these things. For that I am thankful.

I am thankful for my family. I should say families. I am blessed to have a birth family minus a few members, my wife and my wife's family, and my family of friends. Some friends of mine are going through a tough time right now and it is easy to see some of the other typical things that winter often brings or symbolizes. This is a good time to be thankful for your friends and let them know you think of them often.

It is the end of summer and well into fall. Winter is coming. It brings its own rewards, cuddling with hot chocolate and kids, hockey games, skating and Christmas. Cookies and cakes followed by sledding when weather allows. While winter is survival, it is also of dormancy and thought.

I am thankful that winter is followed by spring and that many of the trials and hard times are often followed by a rebirth and growth leading back to fall. Be grateful for the summer and fall. They will see you through the winter.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sharing is Caring

There is a tension between the individual wanting it their way and the natural urge to share food. This post is a little more passive observational than many of my posts. Just throwing an idea out there and seeing if it floats.

In the last few weeks, I have noticed a tension between two different approaches to food consumption. There is a tension between the individual wanting it their way and the natural urge to share food.

On the one hand, you have the Kitchen Library on the Danforth which is an extension of the Toronto Tool Library, both who are a member of the so-called new share economy. It is really an internet version of asking your neighbour to lend you something without the hassle of creating a relationship. Okay, that's a little unfair. It is a way for a group of people to share tools and equipment that are rarely used to ensure maximum economic benefit.

Not Far from the Tree is another organization that helps fruit tree owners collect and share their bounty. Owners get part of the pickings and the rest gets used to generate income for charitable causes.

On the restaurant front, you have the rise of communal tables and small plates for sharing. I had a meal in this fashion at Hopgood's Foodliner recently and the server guided us through the appropriate dishes to greet the table.

A lot of these services have replaced or renewed the idea of community and extended family. Growing up in a small town, the idea of borrowing and lending was common. You often helped your neighbour with picking crops and exchanged pickles, jams and excess produce. The internet seems to be allowing this to occur again. Instead of sitting passively in front of the television screen watching Food Network and mowing down some gourmet takeaway from the local gourmet food shop, we are starting to touch someone through the wires and share food experiences.

Cities makes anonymous easier and allow for carrying privacy like a cloak. Cities make anonymity easier and allow residents to carry privacy like a cloak. With the rise of individual wrappings of stuff, like apples, hummus and veggies, fast food restaurants with individualize menus and the fall of family style servings at restaurants, it seems natural that their would be a push back.  Buffets are giving way to communal tables.

As food issues become more prominent in the industrialized world, I wonder how these tendencies will play on the world stage.

Someone suggested the above edit and made a true wisecrack that I must have been sleepy when writing this. Thanks, Chris...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Beer is Going Highbrow?


In Food & Wine's October issue, there is a column on beer that made me slam down the magazine and tweet. Given that I tweet a lot, that is unsurprising. This time, it is different. I respect the magazine and expect it to have authority. It does get a little dicey when it moves from its core strengths but they try.

The article in question, 'Beer Is Going Highbrow (and Why That's a Good Thing)', by its very title is already creating a dissonance. There is a dominant idea that beer is lowbrow or common. I thought that this was an attempt at getting a headline. I read the article once, then twice, to make sure I understood what just happened. There were a couple of tired tropes such as the vinification of beer, and a surprise of the breadth of beer's taste but there was something a little more unsettling to me.

In this article on beer, wine is mentioned twelve times with two of those instances being in the compound word wine-ification.  Beer is mentioned 36 times. I have not looked closely at all the other articles in this months issue but I believe it is safe to say that most articles on wine don't mention beer at all. This 1:3 ratio is a little high for a non wine article. This issue of mentioning beer's rise needs to stop being compared to wine. In fact, the whole article is a series of missed story lines. The real interesting bits are not followed due to the self described 'proud connoisseur of Miller High Life' not getting the parts that are unique to beer.

For an analogy, it would be like taking a veteran tea drinker who, when they drink coffee, drinks Tim Horton's (Dunkin' Donuts for our American friends) and bringing them into coffee culture to describe it. They will have to fall back on what they know (tea houses, tea brewing and preparation) against coffee. There is always the possibility that curiosity will move them beyond this position but it would require a lot of effort.

Some of the missed opportunities include describing the evolution of watering holes with no mention of the history of breweries and pubs being the first places often built when towns began in North American. Little heed is given to the evolution from sports bars to gastropubs to the brasseries. Brasseries may be new to America but they had a long history in Belgium and France.

There are some words spilled over the complex delivery system in the Torst bar where they have a custom-built system to control carbonation and temperature of each beer. That is where it stops. A description of the look of the system with no pressing of the bartender on why this is. I am genuinely interested, as a reader, on what adjustments to a pedestrian beer could make it better. If you pulled a Bud through that system, how far could you pull the flavour in different directions? This is something that is distinct to beer.

There is talk about how a new beer glass has been designed to enjoy IPAs. What is left out, is why was a new glass required. North America has become so innovative in brewing that there are a number of new and emerging styles of beer. Some are an historical recreation of brews where others are something new. American style IPAs are one of these new styles. There is a quote from the producer of the glass that this IPA glass outsells their wineglasses. Is there something about beer that makes more than two or three styles of glasses mandatory?

The roots of these more interesting conversations are there and the author knows it. In the last third of the article, a beer sommelier states that the current beer culture is probably close to pre-Prohibition era. The author goes on to discuss the sommelier as being one of the earliest pioneers in pairing beer with food totally ignoring the Belgians and the Germans. The sommelier in question is Greg Engert, who Food & Wine chosen as one of ten sommeliers of the year in 2010, the first beer person to be chosen as such. The author could've followed up on these comments and left over dangling questions.

The coffin nailing comment of ' "beer" soon began to feel like an inadequate term to describe what I was drinking." made me think of two things. Food & Wine would not send someone who only drank Baby Duck wine to a winery and accept the same statement above with the word wine in it. It would be disrespectful.

The other thought was about the beerification of wine. Wine is now being put on tap, the places it is being served are more democratic, and vintners are becoming more like rock stars and less like old money, old vines. There is experimentation with adding flavours to wine and in general, the process of wine making is simpler and has not evolved as much as beer has in the past 10 years. Barrel aging, wild yeast strains, new strains of hops, revival of hopless beers, and grain experimentation are just a small smattering of exciting and innovative events in brewing. That is the real story, not how beer culture is the new wine culture. Beer culture described in this manner reminds me of the snobbery against California wine in the past.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Defining Bad Beer, Part 3

Time for another whack at the bad beer pinata. In the first part of this series on trying to define bad beer, I made the argument that unspoiled mass produced beer that did not taste bad was not enough to define bad beer. In the second part, I argued that aggregate sites such as bulletin boards, beeradvocate, ratebeer and untappd were biased towards micro and craft brews and at best could help you find a candidate for bad beer. In this part, we take a look at the experts.

History of Beer Judging
You can bet that in ancient Sumer, where the earliest beer recipe can be found, some may have died at the king's hand over bad beer while others were exalted. Now that could be Guy Kavriel Kay's next historical fantasy novel. The tale of some brewer, probably a woman, being raised to courtier due to her prowess with the brew. In a slightly more contemporary note, Toronto Beer Week starts tomorrow and there will be a documentary about the guy who may have started the modern era of beer judging, Michael Jackson.

He approached beer in a local and historical approach, treating beer as a product of terroir. He made a modern differentiation between ales and lagers and started to form the framework for describing different styles of beer. His first major work was written in 1977. I was unable to find where he defined bad beer but did find where he talked about what some others thought bad beer was. This definition of styles led, of course, to judging how well a beer met a style. Before we get there, let\s talk about the other experts that have come since Michael Jackson.

Battle of the Experts: Sommeliers
There are two recognized arbiters of beer and beer service are Prud'homme and Cicerone. Both are focused on delivering beer as intended by the brewer. The lower levels of Prud'homme are geared towards appreciating beer to the final levels where you are expected to achieve a level of proficiency in terms of 'methods of designing, developing and facilitating beer education programs and events'. Cicerone helps servers get to understand all aspects of beer and to serve the beer in a way that it should be. These both hint at the intention of the brewer and ensuring that the beer served is free of technical defects from improper storage or serving. There is that word, intentionality. That will show up in the fourth part of this series.

Unfortunately, bad beer, in absence of defects, is not discussed in either syllabus. So, the experts are refusing to weigh in on bad beer or is it something else? Let's go a step further and discuss judging of beer because many of these people who achieve sommelier status, at some point, judge beer at competitions.

Here Come the Judge
There are a few judging bodies but I'm only going to tackle the Beer Judge Certification Program because it is one of the best documented of the bunch. They publish clear study guides and beer style guides. There are objective and measurable characteristics with clear examples. For instance, Lite American Lager states that there may be some light corn and sweetness and that strong flavours are a fault. Examples of this style are, you guessed it, Miller Lite and Coors Light. So, they are supposed to taste like that. Hunh, who would have thought that?

More importantly, the purpose of the judging and scoring is to:
  • To give the entrants valuable feedback on the quality of their brew as perceived by the judges in order to enhance the quality of homebrewing.
  • To provide training for aspiring beer judges.
  • To maintain valid standards of judging.
Took the above from their site. They are trying to help homebrewers be better. When you enter a competition, you have to state what style you are brewing. Even if you do a fruit beer, which is a catchall category, you still should note the underlying style that you have added fruit. Once again, it is about the intention of the brewer. A 'bad' beer is one that does not conform to the ideals of the brewer. 

Styles do evolve and get created over time. Older styles are often revived. The workings of how this happen can be seen by looking at how the judging guide has changed. None of this gets us closer to bad beer, though. We get from the experts is that the history and geography of a beer matters. The way that the brewer intends the beer to be appreciated matters. 

So, in the last part, I'm going to try to pull these two elements, the drinkers and the brewers together in some way at getting at the bad beer. 

Before I get to that one, a few things. This part will be my weakest. I can't pretend to be well versed in beer judging and it was only with hours of research that I could make sense of this area. What this post has kindled in me is a sense that maybe I should spend some time looking at these three programs. If you are at all interested in understanding the depth and breadth of beer nerdery, I would recommend highly going through the three websites. 

The second thing is that in the last week, a great post summing up the approach from the other side was posted. I include the link here because it definitely gets at how not to be a jackass and how to be a good snob. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beer Forward Restaurants

A nearby cafe, Lazy Daisy's Cafe, had a contest to help determine the beer selection. I reviewed this place when it opened and it has largely lived up to my assessment. It is a local focused business and all of its effort goes into creating and maintaining their prime clientele of families. Now it is time to expand the business to include evenings. Already they have had comedy nights where some headliners try out some of their new material. There has been alcohol served under a special occasions permits but now, alcohol will become a fixture.

My recent restaurant reviews have included some type of assessment of the beer available with the food and how it matches. So, I am now wondering what advice would I give someplace like a local cafe on what to include on their craft beer list. We'll ignore all those definitions for local and just go with a more woolly idea that the beer has to be able to be delivered within four of five hours of an emergency beer call.

Lagers: There are two good reasons for this entry, the first is to piss off the craft beer snobs and second, lagers are the most popular beer in the world. You have to give people something they recognize and like. You could get a little loose with this definition of lager and include Kolsch as a style. Steamwhistle, Lug Tread, Mill St. Organic are all reasonable. If you extend craft to include the way the beer is made rather than who owns them, then Beer Academy has a few and Creemore Springs would be a good addition. Only warning, don't only stock lagers. Find no more than three and go with it. These don't have to change often because stereotypical lager drinkers are ones that stick with it.

Farmhouse/Miner's Ale: These are spiced, flavoured ales that are known for their refreshing ability. Grissette was made for miners to drink and biere de garde and saisons were the same for farmers and their seasonal workers. Originally, these were all lower alcohol beer meant to go with the breaks during the work. Not to get you drunk but tasty. From experience, it is easier to get help if your lunch spread is tasty. The differences between farm work is slight so any advantage to getting help is a benefit. 

So, these all share a dryness factor, sometimes fruity and sometimes spicy. Great Lakes Brewery has three grissettes bottled but due to the low alcohol, they may not age well. Saisons and biere de garde will stay a little better but availability can be an issue. Oast House from Niagara is doing a number of these styles. Black Oak has a summer saison. Amsterdam has started experimenting and maybe they will continue to offer a new saison depending on the season. Nickelbrook, Bellwoods, and Sawdust City all do at least one good saison.

The saison beer style often appeals to those who drink red wine. The biere de garde can be a little malty. All of these pair well with common workers' food. I would advise cafes to change their ingredients on the sandwiches to go better with the brew. Mess around until you find something you like.

IPA: It's the standard beer for novice craft beer enthusiasts. That may be a little unkind but every brewery does one of these. This beer is great as a palate cleanser and pairs well with spicy foods. You gotta have one. Flying Monkeys does a good job with theirs and has that name brand recognition. In reality, most local brewers do a decent version from Amsterdam's Boneshaker, Double Trouble's Hops and Robbers to a little more food friendly but expensive to carry Spearhead. It might be best to get something that isn't on the LCBO shelves like GLB's Karma Citra or Wellington's Shangra-La to attract beer enthusiasts with something they may not have tried.

Witbier/Weissbier: A wheat beer goes great with food. Differences between the Belgian wit and the German weiss are that the wit is spiced and slightly sour while the weiss has banana and clove notes from the yeast. There are more nuances but that is the basics. This is the type of beer that you pull out for a summer day. If you are looking for a local German weissbier, you can't go wrong with Denison's Weissbier. It is phenomenal with scallops and seafood. If you do go with the witbier, then White Picket Fence by Bellwoods would be good. In general, if you are operating a bar/cafe on the east side, bringing west side microbrews like Indie Ale House, Bellwoods and Kensington would be a good idea. 

Porter/Stout:  Need something to go with dessert and for those people who say they only drink dark beers. Just for the record, the colour of the beer may have nothing to do with the flavour. When people talk about drinking dark beer, it is roasts and malts with chocolate and coffee tastes they are talking about. Mill St. Coffee Porter and Sawdust City's Long Dark Trip to Uranus are good examples. This is often treated like a seasonal, so maybe it would be good to offer either a porter/stout or a sour beer. 

All that stuff above is mainly about styles but what I mean by a beer forward menu is that there is at least a beer for each course that compliments and makes the meal more enjoyable. There must be a mix of recognizable names and new brews. There has to be some accessible beer for new drinkers but a challenging beer or two for aficionados. Might be worth a small bottled beer selection for just this purpose. The staff need to be able to explain what these beers are like and be able to suggest what goes with what. Lazy Daisy has gone a long way to engaging the local beer drinkers and this is what their business model has been. It will go a long way to help to gain goodwill from the regulars if they are included in making the decisions. If only every restaurant would take some simple steps to making their beer list more interesting for food pairing... 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Drunk Review: Pizza Pizza Pizza, Hawaiian

An apology and a warning, maybe two warnings. I wrote this post drunk and may have  inadvertently made some comparisons that read like sexual assault. So, two warnings: may cause triggers and don't write drunk.

So, I blame this missive squarely upon the shoulders of The Only Cafe and Lindsay at Sauce on the Danforth. The former provided me with a curated flight, curated by me, of upper shelf beers that are beyond approach and a soupcon of excellence of a Brouwerij de Moulen, Bombs and Grenadine. The latter aside from the Toronto cocktail riffed most excellently on the Last Word and the Lumiere using Chambord, both chartreuse cocktails. Tbanks Lindsay.

I walked the block to Subway and ordered something and still felt hungry. I stopped at the Pizza Pizza joint and ordered my kids' favourite pie slice, the Hawaiian. Basically, it is ham and bacon on a pizza and not much else.

The whole thing tasted of crunch and that is not a taste. It consisted of the kind of sound that could drown out an ipod mini. Reminded me a bit of the classic Crunch commercial of the nineties. There was the slight saltiness of baconness and the occasional juiciness of the pineapple. My upper palate is slightly abraded while the the lower piece of the tongue feels assaulted. I'm left with the taste of moreness but not in a good way. As is in, I wish I got moreness for the money spent.

Look, in general, I don't hate this franchise but in what it offers the drunk person, I cannot forgive. I wish that I hadn't ordered that pizza because I feel that tomorrow morning I will be left with dry mouth and soreness and wonder if I had been involved in some horrible orgy that I may not have given consent to. Not a good feeling. I feel like I need another drink to clear the salt taste and memory from this episode. Look, I'm a happy-go-lucky drunk but feel as if I have been just assaulted.  Don't do this drunk. Fine if you're sober and know what you are getting into but don't do this under the influence of drink, pot or any other drug. Just say no. Pizza Pizza on Urbanspoon