Sunday, May 26, 2013

Surviving the Great Glebe Garage Sale


This past weekend was a big one for the City of Ottawa.  The biggest event of the weekend would be Ottawa Race Weekend.  Another popular form of running that takes place the fourth Saturday in May comes in the form of "running" from house to house in the Glebe, seeking out great bargains in the Great Glebe Garage Sale (GGGS).  This was my third (non-consecutive) time going to the sale and each year I've learned new tips (sometimes the hard way). 

Of course, if you're not from Ottawa, these same tips can apply to large community garage sales (or even small sales) in any city. 

Tip #1 : The sale is said to run from 9-3.  But like most garage sales, things start up earlier.  Most people were setting up around 7am, but sellers don't usually mind if you start looking as they're setting up. 

Tip #2 :  If you have to drive, arrive early.  I went with E by car because I would have needed to take two buses if I hadn't driven.  The idea of busing with a baby, a stroller and any purchases after a long morning, didn't appeal to me.  So, I drove and got there for 6:30am. 

Tip #3 : Park near the peripheries of the sale, though it's probably best to avoid the canal side.  I usually park near Bronson so that I don't get stuck behind a bunch of cars looking for parking.   

Tip #4 : This is a new tip that occurred to me this year.  After parking, walk to the opposite side of the sale (or however far you think you'll want to go).  Resist the urge to stop at a bunch of the sales as you're doing this.  Then, make your way back to your end destination (car, bus, home).  This way, when you're ready to go, you won't have to lug all of your stuff and your sore feet back the distance you just walked.   

Tip #5 : If you're taking a baby with you -- bring a baby carrier!  I'd avoid the ones where your baby faces out because  there are a ton of people, so it will likely be over-stimulating and it's not  ergonomically-friendly for the baby.  I'd also recommend acquainting yourself with wearing your baby on your back.  It's way easier to carry a 20+ pound baby on your back for three hours than on your front.  Personally, I alternated back and front a couple of times so that I could nurse E while on the move. 

Also -- I recommend you ignore any dumb comments about how wearing your baby doesn't let your baby practice walking.  Someone seriously said this to me as though I should let my 9.5 month old walk in a busy sale with cars and people everywhere.  Not to mention the fact that E's "walking" pretty much consists of cruising from couch to couch or holding on to both of my hands while she slowly shuffles around the living room.  Even if I had a confident walker, I'd still opt to wear her. 

Tip #6 : Bring layers!  This advice pretty much goes for any full day outing, when the weather is variable.  Also - bring water and a snack (unless you want to purchase these items while out).  The GGGS has a ton of food and beverages to purchase.  All of the Bank Street businesses recognize the money-making and community-building opportunity of having thousands of people inundate their neighbourhood and are in on the garage sale action (e.g., putting their own merchandise on sale, targeted advertisement, etc.).  There are also a lot of home owners and charities selling food.  It's actually kind of funny to see people in big expensive Glebe homes selling homemade muffins.  Maybe it's the one day they get to live out their dreams of owning a bakery.  Usually, the money made goes toward a charity. 

Tip #7 : Don't be afraid to haggle.  Sometimes people overestimate what their used stuff is worth.  Maybe it's a lingering emotional attachment.  Sometimes, I just think it's greed.  I'd estimate that I offered a lower price than what the seller wanted about 75% of the time.  For me, it's a combination of: what do I think it's worth and trying to score a good deal.     

Tip #8 : Wait until you're done looking through everything at a particular sale/table before making your purchase.  I kept making this mistake.  I'd find something I would like and then pay for it...Then I'd realize that there were other things I was interested in being sold by the same person/household.  It's easier to put a bunch of items together and get the price down than to haggle a lower price on one item. 

Tip #9 : This is a big one!  Don't be afraid to walk away.  If the price is too high/if the seller isn't willing to budge, if you have a moment of clarity where you discover that you really don't need the item you're considering...whatever the reason.  Just walk away.  Similarly, if the item you're considering is in good shape and really fits a need you have, it's okay to make the purchase even it you couldn't get the seller down that extra dollar.   

Tip #10 : It's important to remember that even though you're getting something (used) at a lower price than what you would pay for in the store, you still have to find somewhere in your home for it.  Every time I considered buying something, I'd think: Do I have space for this?  Will it get used? Is it a good deal?  Will R roll his eyes at this purchase when I get home? 

Here's a picture of my $22 haul:


What tips do you have for garage sales???
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Great Canadian Cheese Festival


Prince Edward County (PEC) has really become quite the destination for foodie-related events and get aways. It has been too long since our previous trips to PEC.  Since we're a bit limited in the foodie-related events we can feasibly attend with a baby, I was thrilled to be invited to the Ottawa-based media launch for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival that will be taking place in a couple of weeks in PEC.  

With more than 100 exhibitors and vendors and over 125 different Canadian cheeses to sample, this show is the largest cheese show is Canada.  

    

This event gave a taste of the exhibitors you'll see at the festival.  

Of course, we couldn't pass by Casa Dea Estates Winery's wines without sampling a bit for ourselves!  PEC's wines benefit from a mineral rich soil and a climate moderated by the adjacent Lake Ontario.  


A chilled white wine (I believe it was Pinot Gris) was a delicious way to cool down from the warm weather of the day.


Saavy Company, was behind the marketing of the event.  Saavy Company has organized transportation to the festival for those coming from Ottawa.  Their tour includes a round-trip coach bus and tickets to the festival.

One of my favourite samples came from Seed to Sausage's skewers of a selection of their salami.  This artisan sausage maker uses local products where possible with few additives and preservatives.  Their products are available at a number of locations in Ottawa.  I am going to have to seek out some more of their Lomo.


We spent some time chatting with Salty Don, who can be regularly found at the Ottawa and Carp Farmer's Markets.  It was interesting learning about the different techniques he uses to add flavour and scent to his salts.  



I'm a bit of a sucker for honey.  I regularly use it in baking, in my tea and when making jam, so I am always tempted to buy just "one more jar." I sampled some of Heavenly Honey's creamed cinnamon honey butter, which would be delicious on a piece of toast.  
   

I'm still kind of hoping that we can magically make it to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. StumbleUpon

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Savoy Brasserie


I can't believe how quickly E is changing.  At 9.5 months, she has now learned to army crawl her way around, showing us all of the ways our house is not sufficiently baby-friendly.  I'm guessing she'll be walking before fully crawling.  She has started cruising this week and that's all she wants to do...  Well..cruising and using the phone to call 911.  Seriously!  What are the chances of a baby pressing the talk button and then 9-1-1?  Apparently, pretty good.  Oops.


Good thing she doesn't make strange (yet?) -- we were able to get out a second night out during Grandma and Grandpa's recent visit.

This second night we went to Westboro. The corner of Churchill and Richmond has changed a lot this year.  First Gezellig moved in on the north-west corner and now Savoy Brasserie has taken over the space previously occupied by Newport Restaurant on the south-east corner. 

The Savoy has a lot of things going for it (location, space, design, concept).  At the same time, there are new restaurant kinks to work out (food consistency, staff training, flow of restaurant, equipment functioning).  

We met up with a couple of friends for dinner about two weeks after Savoy Brasserie opened. For an appetizer, R and I ordered the Savoy salad.  The salad was a bit underwhelming, but I'd attribute it to forgotten ingredients.  I didn't realize until after I finished the salad and saw the neighbouring table's order that our salad didn't include chick peas.  I did, however, notice that there wasn't a drop of dressing (grapefruit vinaigrette) on the salad.  Our friends order the escargot and enjoyed it.


For my main, I ordered steak frites.  The steak was done to my specifications (medium), but I debated askng for steak sauce.  Generally, I hope for a steak to have enough flavour on its own, without needing some sort of sauce.


My friend ordered a bouillabaisse, which she enjoyed.  


R ordered veal scallopine and said it was "just okay."  Not pictured is the duck confit, which our friend really enjoyed (though I think he felt like his serving size was smaller than ours).


Although the staff all seemed polite, I found the number of waiters a bit dizzying.  I know R got really tired of his chair being bumped by passing waiters.  Hopefully they can find a way to widen the aisles for the waiters to pass through.  Below, you can see see the amount of space between the two chairs, which is a main artery of the restaurant.  


Of course, the elephant in the room is the firemen.  Again, I'll give the restaurant slack because it recently opened.  But, the smell of smoke, followed by blaring smoke detectors and entry of firemen kind of broke up the evening.  We took it as our cue to leave and headed down the street for some dessert.

So -- the big question.  Will I return?  Sure -- I'd like to see how they're doing in a couple of months.  Aside from the lack of space between tables, I think all of the bumps we experienced can be easily ironed out with time.

The Savoy Brasserie on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Odile


Going out for a nice dinner is a rare occasion these days.  E and I go out for lunch fairly regularly (maybe once every couple of weeks).  But, without a babysitter or family in Ottawa, I can count the number of times we've gone out for a nice dinner in the past nine months on one hand.  

Knowing that R's parents were coming for a visit, I texted Ron about going out for dinner.  I listed a couple places I would like to try, but hoped he would choose one in particular: Odile.

Odile is Chez Edgar's little sister, but only in the sense that it is Marysol's second restaurant (note: Odile opened about a year ago).  I may be biased, but I think little sisters are pretty awesome.  

After getting screwed by my GPS and ending up in Aylmer, we made our way to Odile's lovely patio area.  I love the way Marysol's food uses fresh ingredients, is cooked with a lot of care, but is not at all pretentious.  

R and I shared a caesar salad.  The dressing had a great kick of garlic and anchovies.  I loved the croutons.  It tasted like bread that had been soaked in garlicy goodness and then baked.  I also thought the pig cheek was an interesting touch.  It had good flavour, though was a bit on the fatty side for my liking.  


For the main I ordered red wine braised shortribs.  They come with a puree of yukon and celery root and kale.  All of this is topped off with chevre noir, a gremolata and shallots.  Oh goodness was this so delicious.  Comfort food at its best.  The shortribs were melt in your mouth and flavourful  If this is how fresh kale can taste, then I need to work on improving my kale-preparation skills.  I will also be looking to make a recipe where I can punch up the flavours with a gremolata soon.  The serving was hearty, but I want some more!


Others at my table ordered the duck breast and were quite complementary of it.  Clearly, there is no shying away from a healthy serving of meat.  My table mates also quite enjoyed the touch of sweetness brought by the fruit (fig? date?).



Even though it was starting to get cold (well, I wasn't cold after drinking two glasses of wine), we couldn't skip out on Marysol's delicious desserts.  Our friends shared an almond cake (can't remember what else was in it).


R and I shared a slice of pear and sugar pie,  We were completely full before the pie came, but managed to find room for it and thank goodness we did.  I don't always like pie crusts because they can be too dry for my liking.  But I loved the crust on this pie.  Of course, the star was still the filling.  The fudgy/sugary thing on top didn't do much for me.  I felt the pie was sweet enough without it.  But, I don't like fudge in general.


Aside from the exceptional food, the service was pretty stellar too.  Like the servers at Chez Edgar, our server was down to earth, professional and friendly.  I hope to be able to return to Odile soon!


Odile on Urbanspoon StumbleUpon

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tomato Caprese Tarts with Chive Oil


My friend and I were having a bit of a debate, over Facebook, about whether keeping an orderly house  is something that people should prioritize, despite having little ones.  She wrote a long note about how she keeps her place clean and is ready for company at any time.

I quoted part of this poem to my friend:

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.

So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Truthfully, we do prioritize keeping the house (fairly) clean.  But, sometimes I wish I didn't care because the evenings and weekends can become one chore after the next.  Also, I was just a bit annoyed with my friend for writing a domestic manifesto about how easy it is to maintain such a lifestyle without acknowledging that she has never had to work for a living and has regular help from nannies.  

My friend also talked about making great meals for her family: "I don’t only buy groceries or make great suppers for company (as I used to) and then eat just okay the rest of the time. But I make a conscious effort to always cook great food for my family, as if company’s always coming over."  

Clearly, if I didn't value great food, I wouldn't be blogging about food for 6 years.  But - I don't always cook great food for my family.  For one, it's not only me that cooks (not to say that R cooks crap food - just that we don't have traditional gender roles in our house).  Sometimes, we just don't have the energy.  Or, sometimes, I just want a bowl of cereal for dinner.  Plus, I kind of like the idea that having guests over is a special occasion that should be marked by extra effort.  

Giz says that the cardinal rule when having guests for dinner is to make a recipe you know well, to be sure that you will be serving something that tastes good.  I pretty much break this rule every time.  

Last weekend, we had guests over and I really wanted to try a recipe from the Savory Pies cookbook of which I got a review copy. 


Tomato Caprese Tarts with Chive Oil


1/2 cup fresh chives, coarsely chopped
1 cup evoo
flour for rolling
2 (14 ounce) packages frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed in the fridge
3 ounces well-chilled low-moisture mozzarella cheese, coarsely shredded
18 large cherry tomatoes or small Sweet 100s (on the vine, if possible)
Cooking spray
1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
kosher salt
fresh whole basil leaves, for garnish
aged balsamic vinegar

Bring to a boil a small saucepan half-filled with unsalted water.  Add the chives and blanch for about 10 seconds; they should be very bright green.  Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.  Pat dry with paper towels.

Put the chives and half the evoo in a blender.  With the machine running, add the remaining olive oil in a slow stream until completely pureed. 


Let the chive oil stand 1 hour and then strain through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a double thickness of damp cheesecloth.  Discard the solids.  


On a lightly floured work surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll 1 package of puff pastry to a 10 x 15-inch rectangle, a scant 1/4 inch thick.  Use a 4-inch cutter to make 6 pastry rounds.  Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  On a freshly floured work surface, use a freshly floured rolling pin to roll the second package of puff pastry to a 10 X 15-inch rectangle, a scant 1/4 inch thick.  Use a cutter to cut 6 more 4-inch rounds.  Then use a 3-inch cutter to cut out the centers of these rounds, creating rings.  Save the trimmings for another use.

Brush the outside edges of the rounds with egg wash.  Carefully lay the rings on top, aligning the edges.  Use a fork to prick the pastry at half-inch intervals inside the raised border.  Refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.  


Set an over rack in the center position.  Preheat the oven to 425F. 

Divide the mozzarella among the pastry rounds, about 2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) each, keeping it inside the boarders.  Lay 3 tomatoes on top of the mozzarella; it's okay if they touch or overhand a little.  Leave the vine attached or remove it, as you see fit.  Give the tomatoes a spritz of cooking spray (preferably olive oil).  Brush the tart edges with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  


Bake until the pastry is golden and the tomatoes are just beginning to crack and blister, 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with lots of fresh basil leaves.  Serve chive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side as a dressing.  


Verdict -- these tarts were really good!  I can see myself serving them over and over again, kind of like this puff pastry recipe.  They're pretty easy to pull together.  My critiques would be that I didn't think that the chive oil added much to the recipe.  I'll probably try pesto on the side next time instead.  Also, I didn't like how the recipe basically suggested setting a bunch of puff pastry aside for another use.  I knew that if I set it aside, it would go to waste.  So I just re-rolled the pastry and made 10 tarts instead of 6.  

On a side note -- I also tried the pizza dough recipe from the book and loved it!  Great flavour and texture.  It's our new "go to" pizza dough recipe.
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