August 2008

Monthly Archive

Niagara redux

Posted by on 31 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

We did our quasi-annual day trip to Niagara today — the first and last time ever we do this on the Labour Day weekend — QEW traffic having transformed the day trip into something approaching five hours of driving (not to mention a bad decision that had landed us right in the middle of CNE Lakeshore traffic before we even left Toronto).

Traffic having been uncooperative, we had to scratch a few places from the schedule that we’d intended to visit — we wanted to go back to Peninsula Ridge to try them out again after having been a bit nonplussed there some years ago, and also possibly try out the new-ish Fielding Estates winery also in the Beamsville area. These were supposed to be fillers before lunch at Vineland Estates, but as things turned out we arrived at VE some 45 minutes after our reservation time, and some 15 minutes after they’d stopped serving lunch.

What Vineland has between lunch and dinner is a sort of “light” menu — mainly cold dishes and few hot dishes that don’t require too much hard thinking from the kitchen to prepare. We split a salad and a cheese plate as starters and I had the Cumbrae lamb burger with tzatziki sauce (I think there was also supposed to be feta, but not being a feta fan really I didn’t miss it) while J. had a cold charcuterie plate. J. is a charcuterie fan and greatly enjoyed her plate, and I was very happy with my burger. One of these days we want to do dinner there.

After Vineland we rambled over to Niagara College which has a teaching winery and wine shop at their  industrial-looking campus at QEW and Glendale Rd. It’s not the kind of place you go for ye olde wine countrie atmosphere. We had earlier enjoyed their 2005 unoaked Chard, $15 and good value for money, so we were curious what else they had on offer. We tasted and bought bottles of the 2006 unoaked Chard, the 2006 Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Cab Franc (also a Gamay, probably 2006, which we passed on). All smooth, likeable wines with reasonable varietal character (esp. the Pinot for its price), maybe a bit confected though, all under $20. We’ll see how we like them outside the winery.

They had a interesting educational program going — small tasting glasses with samples of actual peaches, pineapple, raisins, soil, tobacco etc. to compare with the wines. A neat idea to combine with a tasting maybe. They’ve also hired a graphic designer for their labels, which are now kind of cute and more likely to catch the eye on an LCBO shelf than the previous utilitarian design.

From NCT to our last winery destination, Coyote’s Run, was a study in contrasts. Coyote’s Run has their 2006 reds out. Somewhat to my surprise, 2006 was (for them, at least) a relatively lean year weather-wise. (I remember walking back from work during a week of ultra-hot days in the summer of 2006 but then that was only a week…) Their reds are generally at 11.5% and delicate rather than forceful. They’ve reintroduced the Red Paw-Black Paw distinction which they abandoned for the 2005 vintage (not enough crop I think — evil 2005 winter?), reflecting the two kinds of soil they have on their property. Among the reds they had a Black Paw Pinot and Cab Franc as well as Red Paw Pinot, Cab Franc, and Syrah. We weren’t too sure about the Pinots this year, so we passed entirely on the simpler (and cheaper) Red Paw but we decided to take a risk on the Black Paw, at $36 by far our most expensive purchase. Picked up a Cab Franc in both Paws — our server says she liked the Red Paw better and somewhat to my surprise I was inclined to agree, at least at the winery. It will be fascinating to compare them. Finally, somewhat to our surprise, we decided to take a risk with their new Red Paw Syrah — first vintage from these vines, mainly black pepper at the moment to my nose, fruit uncertain.

So a study in contrasts — smooth, likeable, well-priced wines from NCT; a bit of living dangerously at Coyote’s Run. We shall see…

Get Smart

Posted by on 15 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Humour

In Milwaukee, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or something:



Full metamorphosis here. H/t to Calculated Risk.

Anti-doping: the comic

Posted by on 14 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Small people

Courtesy of UNESCO:

Since Monday 4 August, visitors can find, every week, the latest instalment of an adventure featuring Rattus Holmes and Felis Watson, detective heroes of a comic strip against doping in sport, published by UNESCO in partnership with EDGE G3 Ltd.

Entitled “The Case of the Spoilsports”, this comic strip (in English, Spanish and French) dramatizes UNESCO’s role in the fight against doping and explores the importance of the International Convention against Doping in Sport, adopted by UNESCO’s member states in 2005.

This week, read Chapter 2: On the Case [PDF]: The Baker Street Kids learned that their hero was using performance enhancing drugs when he won an important bicycle race. They were so disappointed. Then a mysterious visitor came to see the famous detectives Rattus Holmes and Felis Watson…

I’m not sure what’s more pathetic here: that UNESCO is bothering to market to small children, or that it has to rip off Sherlock Holmes to do it. Can’t they come up with an original concept at least? Talk about performance enhancements…

The Right School — called Jackman

Posted by on 14 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Toronto

I hope Toronto Life didn’t pay full freight to Philip Preville, whose cover story “PS, I Love You” (not yet posted online) adorns the magazine’s September “The Right School” issue. Here’s how the story is billed:

A handful of schools drive parents into a frenzy of status lust — and they’ll do anything to get their kids in. How Toronto developed a two-tier public education system.

And here’s what the story actually contains:

A few anecdotes about parents intent on, if not exactly desperate to, get their children into Jackman school, padded by a few fawning paragraphs about the quality of the donated items at the school’s silent auction. (Preville clearly doesn’t get out to many charity fundraisers.) I guess collecting some horror stories while shopping along the Danforth — Preville lives in Riverdale, according to his late, unlamented blog on — was easier than branching out to another neighbourhood or digging into whether all other less-demanded schools are inferior. It might have been interesting to look at whether this was a new or old phenomenon, or compare the situation here to other cities, or, you know, do something beyond polish up some rumours overheard at the Big Carrot.

Lions, tigers, bears etc. of a more literal sort

Posted by on 13 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events

My media scan today was full of odd and/or silly animal stories, and it seems a shame not to post them all somewhere….

Grizzly attack! Buddy climbed a tree and deployed bear mace and is fine. (Also, a big fan of bear mace.)

“I saw this immense instant attack coming at me, and I kind of exclaimed something that … probably most people would exclaim,” he added with a chuckle.

“The funny part is, I think I actually kind of jumped up with both of my feet, like in a cartoon. I mean, I was just totally just awestruck and in total panic.”

Look, a baby giraffe in Calgary:

Let this be a lesson: do not put pink dresses on your cats, or they will leave you. Kitty in pink: $1,000 reward offered for missing cat.

National G feels compelled to warn us that this video contains graphic images of echidna wangs (which are indeed deeply structurally peculiar). Warning! Warning! Echidna pr0n!

Best title of the day, although the article itself is not all that interesting: Are Pronghorns Smarter Than Classical European Royalty?

Punching a bear in the nose

Posted by on 11 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Russia

The BBC has an excellent and balanced analysis of the Russia-Georgia conflict to date, raising many of the issues inherent in the situation. Here’s one worth some reflection, especially if you want to put odds on the next trouble spot:

8. Are borders in Europe to be sacrosanct for ever?

It has been one of the rules of post-war Europe – borders cannot be changed except by agreement, as say in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps this rule has been applied too inflexibly. Yet governments like that of Georgia are reluctant to give up any territory, even when the local population is so clearly hostile and might be in that state simply as a result of some past arbitrary decision. It was the Soviet Union that created a semi-autonomous region of South Ossetia in Georgia in 1922. Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Will this lead to trouble one day?

As the article mentions, August is a good time to think about alliances, it being the same month that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. I’m no apologist for the violence and appalling lack of concern for human life that Russia reliably demonstrates wherever it goes, most recently in Georgia/South Ossetia — but does anyone really want to be at the beck and call of a hotheaded, reckless leader who spends more than 5% of his country’s GDP on arms and training from Israel and the U.S. and is prone to regularly waving red flags in front of bulls?

RX: Ikea

Posted by on 08 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Stuff

I’ve avoided posting anything from the Globe Facts and Arguments page until now, I think, but yesterday’s essay is just too dreary and sad to ignore.

The author is a Globe copy editor who has taken a dream job — which, amazingly, given the generally subpar morale of the Globe newsroom, appears to be her current position — in Toronto while her husband and children continue to live elsewhere. There’s a vague hint toward the end of a happy reunion to come, but otherwise, anyone beginning to read the piece halfway through might reasonably assume her family has died, the tone is that elegiac:

If I didn’t work out and go to bed exhausted, I’d cry myself to sleep. If I met up with old and new friends after work, I’d return to my apartment to a crushing wave of guilt, as though I’d cheated on my family by having fun without them. And then I’d cry myself to sleep.

Is it really surprising that this cheerless bundle of joy hasn’t managed to connect with the neighbours in her apartment building?

This is the first time this 36-year-old woman has ever lived on her own, having gone directly from university to a house — sorry, home –with her husband. I don’t doubt that leaving your children for five days a week is a hard choice leading to feelings of guilt and loss. But the author is so conflicted about her choice that’s she’s exacerbating her own situation:

I won’t buy furniture, because that feels like a selfish luxury lavished on top of mortgage and rent. I have a chair, an exercise ball, a lamp, a sleeping bag and a pillow.

If this was all that greeted me when I came home at night, I might cry myself to sleep, too. Isn’t there a difference between “selfish luxury” and “living like an adult professional”? Does anyone have any furniture in the basement we might drop off at the Globe building for Ms. MacWhirter? I volunteer my old TV, which will allow her to do more than watch CSI while doing squats in the building gym.

As one 36-year-old woman living on her own to another, some tips:

1. Buy some furniture, for God’s sake. At least a bed or futon frame, which will allow you to read at night and escape your constant misery.

2. Get a library card and check out some books. You know how when your kids were small you felt like you had no time to read? Well, now you do. Make the most of it.

3. Get a radio, or start listening to the radio through your computer (if you’ve permitted yourself such a luxury). Having voices in the background can make you feel less alone.

4. Take a photo of yourself in the apartment. This is, as your essay makes clear, your first ever foray into independence. I understand this doesn’t fit your idea of what you should be doing in your life — you mention that you’re not sure this is as worthy as the other things you were proud enough to take photos of, like your first home and your first car — but it’s part of your life. The life you’re you’re actually living, that is, rather than the airbrushed version you’d prefer to preserve.

5. It’s all part of growing up. Having gone straight from school to husband to children, you haven’t had a chance to become an adult female with a personality independent of your roles in relation to the rest of your family. Someday — as an empty-nester, widow, divorcee, what have you — you might find you need one.

Strangely fascinated by fire

Posted by on 07 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Books

From Mrs. Simcoe’s diary:

Saturday July 7, 1792

“I walked this evening in a wood lately set on fire by some unextinguished fires being left by some persons who had encamped there, which in dry weather often communicates to the trees. Perhaps you have no idea of the pleasure of walking in a burning wood, but I found it so great that I think I shall have some woods set on fire for my evening walks. The smoke arising from it keeps the mosquitoes at a distance, and when the fire has caught the hollow trunk of a lofty tree, the flame issuing from the top has a fine effect. In some trees where but a small flame appears it looks like stars as the evening grows dark, and the flare and smoke, interspread in different masses of dark woods, has a very picturesque appearance.”

Chinese ingenuity, the new Soviet incompetence?

Posted by on 05 Aug 2008 | Tagged as: Business

From the GMO quarterly newsletter, a dissenting voice on the Chinese miracle:

No sooner do we finish wallowing in the idea of Soviet incompetence than we start to believe that Chinese central planners can wonderfully manage a complicated economy, growing unprecedentedly fast and transforming overnight from a rural society to a capital-intensive wonder using half of some of the world’s resources. Economic logic and history suggest that their governmental interferences will be sub-optimal, and that China’s current level of investment will turn out to be dangerously high, encouraging waste. They continue to build basic capacity on automatic pilot even as they encounter dangerous times for their export-led economy, since we are all facing the rising probability of a global slowdown in economic growth and trade. China also has to deal with rising energy costs in their particularly energy inefficient economy. Surely they will stumble. And if we are all unlucky, they will stumble right into the global credit crisis.