Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cork Poppers -- Rolling on the River with Summer Wines

Well, it's about time I got back to real life and away from Quebec! Time to pop a cork or two! Take a perfect August day, nine (of twelve) Cork Poppers, and dinner and wine to die for and you have a rolling-on-the-river good time!

We love gathering at Meredith and Roger's in the summer because we know that if the weather holds, we'll have a boat ride on the Grand River.

And more on that later! But we always start with the tasting.This month our theme was wines to drink doing something you love. For some of this, it was an older favorite wine and for others of us, a new one. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't!)

We started out with Barb's white sangria. We could have just stopped with that.

Honestly, this was so good -- and probably relatively lethal if one had free reign and all day, say on the beach or in the sun or just hanging out.

Here's how she made it. You'll have to juggle quantities yourself!

Mix one super-big sauvignon blank with
1/2 c. peach schnapps
1/2 c. triple sec
1/2 c. simple syrup
1/2 bottle club soda
1/2 bottle 7-up (2 litre bottle)
Add loads of fruit and chill! Serve over ice!

The first wine from Dick was Robert Mondavi 2014 Fume Blanc from Napa Valley. Fume Blanc is a dry sauvignon blanc. Everyone said it smelled good and I thought it nice and peppery but that was when the nice comments stop. Dick said, "I don't like Mondavi wines. Yet I hear people I trust who say there are good Mondavi wines."

Barb said it had undertones of skunkiness. Roger thought it had an acidic aftertaste and Cheryl -- who pretty much only drinks white said "Not the best white I've ever had." We agreed that you could throw it into the sangria and all would not be lost. But at $14.99 I'd think twice.

Roger was next with Moselland Arsvitas Riesling from the Mosel area. It clearly was the best bottle design with a beautiful floral motif that one could view from both sides of the bottle. He found this at World Market for $12.99.


I wrote "This is very good" and Meredith said "I really like this one." Cheryl said, "I love it!" and Meredith added, "You could buy that again!" At this price I would buy it just for the cool bottle!

I was next with Atlantique 2016 Rose from the Loire Valley. (World Market) OK, I did something I never do. I bought it for the pretty bottle. Don't do that. It was pretty dry and Dick said "It's nothing offensive." I wrote "for a Rose, I don't mind this too much." (We are very good at damning with faint praise.) Cheryl, on the other hand, said "Where's the slop jar?" At $12.99 I would not recommend it.

(I should say that both Dick's first wine and my Rose did lose points from all of us for not being cold enough. It was a warm day when we met and the wines were sitting out a bit too long before we began tasting. Whites should be well chilled. Ours weren't, except Roger's -- and he lives there!)

Pat was next with Apothic Red, 2014 Winemaker's Blend. Apothic is very available at most groceries and at $8.99 we agreed it was a very good wine for the price and "well worth having in the house."

Clayton and Anne brought Reserve Mouton Cadet 2013 Bordeaux from Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

Again, mixed opinion. "I really love this," I said. Roger said "This wine is a little too much for me -- too strong after all the light ones." "I think this is lovely," Barb said, but Roger said "This is like a shock to me." He got it on sale at Meijer for $12.99. Several of us thought it a very elegant wine.

Cheryl, who rarely drinks red but is "Hamilton"'s greatest fan brought The Federalist Dueling Pistols. It is a one of a series of wines honoring America's founding fathers and their ideals. A blend of half Zinfandel and half Syrah, it's from Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma.

I loved it and Dick said "This is wonderful, I wish it wasn't so good!" Someone (probably Barb) described it as a smooth, good, supple mouthful." I wrote "Pretty fabulous. This is really good!" And at $32 (Meijer) it should be!

Then it was on to the river! The sun was bright, the sky blue. Captain Roger knows where to go and where not to (he's been beached before) and it was just beautiful out!

First we saw one of Harry's cousins, a lovely blue heron.

And we had a wonderful sighting!

Yes, these are Sandhill Cranes. I rarely see them, though they do hang out in this area.

It's pretty hard to get a good photo, zoomed, on a moving or idling boat. But I was happy with this one.

And this.

You remember I mentioned "perfect day" and "sky was blue." Well, it was -- till it poured. We all clustered in the back of the boat -- which made it a little low in the water. And all the water in the top rolled down to the bottom. As did the dropping from the canopy. I was sitting on the end here and got the brunt of it.

Let's just say I was grateful to our hosts for letting me shed my soaking shorts, shoes and undies and deck myself in a beach towel sarong!

Dinner -- to die for. First, Meredith set a delightful table with a summer fun (golfing) theme.

Our party favors were jars of home made peach chutney!

And dinner! Mere is the master at Frogmore Stew. How she could work in the hot kitchen over a steaming pot, I don't know, but I'm glad she did!

Barb's salads are always to die for.

And Anne raided her garden for the freshest tomatoes, cukes and basil.

What's not to love on this plate!

Dick and I had birthdays to celebrate.

I was on top for the dessert -- madeleines and Nigella Lawson's Lemon Meringue Cake. It's one of my go-to recipes for a delicious, not-too-difficult and impressive looking dessert!

No one left hungry!

For past Cork Popper posts, check the link on the Marmelade Gypsy menu bar where posts are categorized (Italian, French, Bordeaux, etc.).

Sharing this week with Share Your Cup. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

La Belle Quebec -- Travel Tips

Our trip to Quebec was tres magnifique! Here are a few tips that might be good ones to remember for your trip to Quebec -- or anyplace! Some of these may be familiar friends to you for any trip, but if nothing else, a good reminder!

Wear Comfy Shoes!

In some cities you can get by with fashionable footwear and be reasonably comfortable. Not me. I have orthotics that make even nice shoes look a little clunky. While we didn't plan to go about looking scuzzy, we did determine that this was a city where comfy shoes were a must and with the hills, I'm glad we did. Which leads me to...

Practice Walking Prior to Your Visit

This may be a given if you walk regularly but even if you do, if you know you'll be dealing with hills, you might want to get off the flats, whether it's on the treadmill or a real hill! Especially if you are wheeling your luggage up or down with you!

Currency Exchange

Some banks have reciprocal arrangements with foreign banks for no-fee atm money exchange. If not, pull what you think you'll need in cash all at once to save additional fees (and of course most credit cards are accepted). We knew our B&B took American checks or cash so I was covered there. Think about things you might not want to charge -- ground transportation, small purchases. Remember, many banks and credit unions have a credit card use fee for foreign exchanges, so factor that into your currency exchange rate before deciding whether to use cash or charge.

 Explore Alternative Transportation

Rick would tell you to ride, but if a 900-mile bike trip isn't your idea of a good time, there are other options! Feet are the obvious one here, but also be aware of bus or Metro lines. And I can't recommend the train highly enough. While in a tourist city with carriage rides? Well, if you can afford it, go for it -- looked fun to me!

Parlez vous Francais? Give it a try!

Quebec is a province where French is the primary language and English secondary. Pretty much everyone we talked with spoke English but it was fun and I think appreciated when we could at least be polite in French at the least and give a conversation a try as well. Menu French will be useful too -- most menus we saw were bi-lingual but not all. I think no matter what the country, even if you have a few words -- please, thank you, excuse me, hello, goodbye and a few others, it lets people know you are trying to be with them and part of the country you are visiting. (Most will immediately come to your aid, we've found, and between the two of you, all gets answered!)

Consider Buying Art

Quebec is an artist's mecca and there are loads of galleries. Some pieces are very high priced, others more reasonable. Galleries are very willing to compromise on shipping costs and there wasn't a one that didn't say "we will ship the painting after the first payment and the first ten months are interest free." The shipping helps skip duty taxes and you get to enjoy the painting in your own home. If the galleries are still too pricey for you, consider the street artists or a print from a shop.


If you have a good B&B, as we did, consider a mid-morning breakfast, mid-afternoon light snack like soup or sharing a sandwich and then a nice dinner.

Don't forget the Table d'Hote -- all three courses are included and you often have a variety of selections for your main dish and sides. It's an economical way to enjoy a lovely meal, versus ordering a la carte.

And speaking of being economical...

Consider What's free and What's Not

No one loves a good museum more than I do. But many have costs attached and if you commit to an indoor attraction that will take a couple of hours, that's two hours less to explore, which matters if your time in a city or country is brief. We chose to skip museums this time. (Next time, I'd take in at least one or two.) I'm glad we did. We covered a lot of territory and the art we saw, which, while not as famous as a great master, was delightful, diverse and fun for us to see. In addition, chats with a gallery manager gave us loads of information about technique or the artists we liked.

It's more than the museums. Major cities often have street performers and lots of them are fun and worth a watch. Check out the hotel lobbies. Some, like the Frontenac, have interesting displays that convey the history of the city or the building. And be bold! If you walk like you belong there, no one will much care if you take the elevator to the 17th floor, look out the window and get a look at the view!

Our ferry ride cost far less than a cruise and was both fun and gave us more time to explore. Souvenirs from the grocery store may be more fun (and less expensive in some cases) than one from a gift store -- and who needs another magnet? 

Local Favorites

Be sure to find out what events are occurring during your visit, if any, and plan for them. Your host at a B&B or hotel concierge will be helpful and there are newspapers and brochures that include this info as well in most cities.

Venture Outside the Wall

If you're in Quebec, the Vieux Quebec area is magical, old world and wonderful. I could stay there forever, I think. But we didn't see a tenth of the city. If your visit is short, limit your choices but if you have a longer time, get outside your residential area and see a little more.

And, say you're not in a walled city -- then what? Well, get out of your familiar neighborhood, take the bus or the Metro or the Tube and check out another area. Why not? You may only be there once.

Brush Up on Your History

If you are headed to Quebec or many European countries, you may not be familiar with their history and the names you hear may mean little to you. My knowledge of French  Canadian history, for example, came courtesy of "Bury You Dead," a Louise Penny mystery into which explorer Samuel de Champlain played a major (albeit posthumous) role. And we all know how history and fiction can get mixed up in our minds! I'm not saying you have to be a scholar, but your experience will be a bit richer if you have a bit of a head start!

Pace Yourself!

There is nothing worse than being on holiday and trying to do it all -- and then the next day you can hardly move or you're really wiped out -- and there is still loads to do! Of course you want to make the most of your time but those places will be there should you love them enough to return.

I tend to favor not being with a tour group as it gives me time to make my own choices and my own timetable.  More than once I've heard someone say "we only had fifteen minutes to shop before we had to go back to the bus." Sometimes (and some places) that's the only way to go, but I heartily recommend giving a try to going alone, maybe booking a tour for a special place that might be out of your zone.

There's something nice about a leisurely lunch in a cafe or taking a long time in a store that appeals to you or simply sitting and enjoying the scene. If you do your homework, you may well discover that this is the way to go!

Most of all, Have Fun!

That's what travel is all about. Meeting new people (we met a couple at our B&B from Cleveland where my family is and it turned out their son dated my cousin's daughter in high school!), chatting with your B&B host or waiters, trying a new local food or making a new discovery is part of what travel is about for me!

Thanks for joining me on this recap! I hope you'll give Quebec City a thought when planning an exciting holiday!

Friday, September 15, 2017

La Belle Quebec, Au Revoir

And so, as all good things come to an end, it was time to leave. Rick packed up his bike and we bid farewell to Guitta and our B&B.

Then a short walk to the train station. Downhill, thank goodness, though when dragging luggage, that isn't quite as easy as it seems!

We had to arrive early so Rick could check his bike but that gave us some time so we enjoyed a few quiet moments by the lovely fountain outside. Take a look at that sky. Figures. The day you leave, the sun is out full force!

Our destination? Montreal. We were taking the train to Toronto (I was going on to London) and due to connections we'd have an overnight. We arrived several hours later and were ravenous, not having eaten since Guitta fed us so well that morning. We found a fabulous restaurant called Industria next door to our hotel that is worth mentioning.

Rick had the orichette, I had the pizza Calbrese (and we shared). Both were outstanding!


Then our room at the Alt Hotel -- with its fabulous view.

The next morning it was the train to Toronto. We no sooner arrived that Rick changed into his bike clothes and was off on his bike to meet me and Suzanne later part way to London.

I, on the other hand, found myself in a great city with about an hour to spare on the day of the eclipse! The sun was bright as could be and we saw no shadow overtake it, but the bellhop at the Royal York, across from the train station, gave me a glimpse through his special glasses. It was remarkable. But I couldn't keep his glasses, so I did the next best thing. I took shelter in the Royal York.

Think about it. Sit in a train lobby for an hour or sit here? After all, I was in good company!

Yes, I thought so!

Canada is celebrating 150 years (although that's the British 150; the French might have something to say about that!) They are encouraging tourism and I recommend it too!

The rest of the story is cut and dried -- a solo train jaunt for me, reuniting with my wonderful friend in London and hopping in the car to get Rick at our meeting point. More or less. It would be home the next day.

There's one more post in this series -- travel tips. While they are especially useful if you're headed to Quebec, you'll find they may well apply to other destinations, too!

Miss anything -- here are links to Day One (Arrival) / Our terrific B&B / Day Two, Morning / Day Two, AfternoonDay Three / Three Churches / The Murals

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