The Mother of Adventure

A little slice of Canadiana

PerformersCanadians often brag about being able to not only withstand the cold, but embrace it.

On frosty winter mornings, while scraping the four-inch, icy coating off their windshields, neighbours can be heard making cheery quips like, “Cold enough for ya?” or, “That’s quite the dump of snow we got last night, eh?”

Since January, however, I have admittedly *not* been embracing winter. Ottawa’s bitter temperatures – which ranged between -25C and -40C for most of the month – were a tough pill to swallow, and frankly, I felt more like hibernating than pulling on a parka.

Ice SlidesBut the beauty of the cold stretch is how good it feels when you finally get a day like today – a beautiful, mild winter day that is perfect for outdoor family fun. Our family decided to take advantage of the perfect conditions, so we headed to Jacques-Cartier Park to play at the ‘Snowflake Kingdom’ as part of Winterlude, Ottawa’s massive, annual winter festival.

First up on the agenda were the ice slides, which were a blast for all of us. The glossy, polished ice is the perfect surface for sliding down right on your butt – no mat needed.

But this year we also tried out the ‘Chinook Run,’ which is a tubing adventure. The tubes are big enough for a parent to take a child in their lap, so you can choose to double up or go solo. Festival workers grab a handle at the end of a long cord – attached to your tube – and whip you down the start of the run, delivering a good rush of speed.

Several ice slides later, our frozen toes told us it was time to warm up and enjoy a the much-anticipated Winterlude treat – the Beavertail. These cinnamon-and-sugar sensations are worth the trek downtown in and of themselves, and if you come to Winterlude you just can’t leave without trying one.

DrummingAfter washing it down with a good dose of hot chocolate, we headed back to check out the Aboriginal displays and presentations. This year, the group was demonstrating traditional drumming, how to make snowshoes and how to throw a harpoon. Our nine-year-old, who has taken units in school about Aboriginal groups, always loves checking out these areas, although the animal lover in her shrinks away from the furs hanging on display.

We played away our whole morning at the Snowflake Kingdom, and suddenly we were hungry for more than just sugary snacks. After putting in my request for poutine, my husband had a brainwave. Back over the bridge to Ontario, we headed to the Market where we found the most perfect post-outdoor lunch spot: The Smoque Shack.

The Smoque ShackA vegetarian’s nightmare, this place offers the most delicious array of BBQ’d meats you can imagine; we ordered a sampling plate that included pulled pork, ribs and a tangy, Texas-style beef brisket.

The poutine – which was what brought us there in the first place – was outstanding. Perfectly dusted with spices and piled with cheese curds and chicken gravy, the platter was very generous – ideal for sharing amongst all of us.

Add in a pint of Mill Street Organic Lager – from a microbrewery right here in Ottawa – and the Olympics playing on the restaurant’s TV, and I’m pretty sure I found the perfect recipe for a day of Canadiana.

And you know what? Unlike those long, cold days in January, winter and I actually got along today. With a little help from great festivals and fine food establishments, maybe I can embrace it after all.

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Kenya…and a little bit of Jerusalem

Kenya 3D posterWhen Ian got four free passes to see Kenya 3D: Animal Kingdom at the IMAX theatre in Hull, the kids and I were thrilled that he chose us to go with him (hmm…perhaps he even had us in mind when he took the passes?). We often liken our kids to animals in the wild, so it seemed the subject matter was the perfect fit.

Going in, I wasn’t 100 per cent certain that I could name every animal indigenous to Kenya, but I felt pretty confident that I could make some educated guesses. So imagine my surprise and confusion when the movie started out by talking about how Jews, Christians and Muslims alike converge on a tiny piece of land. (Wait a minute…what about the monkeys? I was sure there would be monkeys!)

Clearly, the staff had queued up the wrong movie – we were watching Jerusalem – and let me tell you, our kids were not amused; Elissa sat there for 10 minutes with her arms folded and a big scowl on her face. Happily, they quickly corrected the mistake and Kenya 3D: Animal Kingdom was off and running – smiles all around.

The three things I love most about IMAX movies is that they’re short, educational and are always beautifully filmed – making many of them perfect for kids. Kenya 3D is no exception – it runs for 40 minutes and features some incredible animal footage, focusing on lions, elephants, leopards and black rhinos – as well as giraffe, hippos and cheetahs.

It’s hard not to glean at least a few new pieces of information during an IMAX movie. So I’ll leave you today with a few random, animal facts that I took away from Kenya 3D: Animal Kingdom:

  • Some people believe that rhino horns have medicinal properties, which is one of the reasons they have been overhunted and are now endangered;
  • Cheetahs have incredible eyesight; they will pick their victim out of the herd from a distance and stalk that one animal;
  • Giraffes have tongues that are nearly two feet long.
  • Hippos are very strange and ugly animals (OK, that last one is less fact and more personal opinion).
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Chocolate lipstick

Montreal 2013Between the somber news of my grandmother’s passing last night and reflections of Remembrance Day today, I feel a bit emotionally drained.

I need to turn my thoughts to something light-hearted and frivolous for today’s post, so I’m going to write about one of my recent adventures in Montreal – and how it led me to chocolate lipstick. (In the theme of today’s post, I’d also encourage you to listen to The 1975’s ‘Chocolate.’ I have no idea what the meaning of the song is, but hearing it makes me disproportionately happy.)

My sweet friend Cathy planned a surprise getaway to Montreal for me last weekend, as a belated birthday gift. After a fantastic Saturday of shopping, dining and wining, we woke up Sunday morning looking for an authentic French bakery.

Chocolate storeThe lovely concierge at the Regency Hyatt recommended a restaurant/chocolatier called Juliette & Chocolat, and provided us with walking directions. We found the shop, but unfortunately we were there half an hour before it opened. Chilled, hungry and caffeine-deprived, we ended up at a non-descript diner across the street. We did, however, stop in on our way back, and am I ever glad we did.

Juliette & Chocolat definitely warrants a re-do the next time I head to Montreal, only this time I’ll be sure to get there for brunch. It is charmingly decorated with a mouth-watering menu for sit-down diners (think unique omelettes, fresh fruit salads and top-of-the-line coffees).

Since we’d already eaten breakfast, however, we decided to check out the dessert counter to pick out a treat for later. We decided on two ‘Fleur de Sel’ chocolate brownies, as we both have a bit of a fetish for sweet meets salty.

Chocolate lipstickWhile paying for the brownies, I spotted some adorably authentic-looking chocolate lipsticks by the cash register. I decided to pick up a couple of them for my girls, ages six and nine, who are currently quite interested in both chocolate and lip products. The gift was a major (tasty) hit.

Somehow, some way…between the pleasant distractions of funky clothing stores and Italian shoe stores…those chunky chocolate brownies managed to remain intact until our drive back to Ottawa that night.

It was only as we were attempting to manoeuvre our way out of Montreal’s downtown core that we fumbled in Cath’s purse to find our treasure…and what a true treasure it was. Hands down, this was the best brownie I have ever consumed. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is on my top ten lists of all-time best desserts. In my life. And yes, it was that good. I must mention that each brownie came with its own little container of salted caramel sauce for dipping…sheer bliss.

Don’t take my word for it…try it for yourself! I promise that I’ll eat (chocolate-covered) crow if you disagree.

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