Rockland Community Garage Sale

The whole town of Rockland sets aside the holiday Monday of the Victoria Day Weekend every year for the Rockland Community Garage Sale. The sale centers around the parking lot of the Independant Grocer on Laurier Street, where a flea market pops up for the day while the main store is closed. (I believe the garden center was open, though.) While this is the hub of activity, the sales continue throughout the town and a leisurely walk or drive around will lead you to some scores.

I spent the day out searching for finds with a friend of mine. She’d been going to this sale for many years, and she is the one who alerted me to its existence — I’d never gone before! My friend was hoping that a particular booth with scrapbooking supplies would be there again this year; sadly, we never found that particular vendor. However, we both came away with some fantastic bargains.

Front to back, left to right, I came home with:

– a bag of white Christmas bead garland (free)
– a bag of tiny Christmas balls (free)
– three sets of light-up LED shoelaces ($5 each)
Borderlands for the PS3 ($5 — and yes, somehow I didn’t have the original game)
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Pokemon Pearl Version for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Pokemon Diamond for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief for the Nintendo DS ($5)
– a brand new Hogwarts scarf ($3)
– a fish bowl or possibly a candle globe (free)
– a small lunch box ($0.25)
– a bread maker (free — to replace mine, which I’ve worn out)
– Super MasterMind ($2)
– a massive load of glass marbles ($10)
– two pictures ($0.50 each — and I only want the frames to try out Epbot’s frame resizing tutorial)

According to my math, that means that I spent $56.25, which is generally more than I’ll spend in a day of thrifting, but those DS games will be saved for Thing 1’s birthday, so I feel I’m ahead of the game there.

I think my favourite find, I think, was the big bags of marbles. This was a combined purchase from a couple of different sources, but I love the look and weight of them all. I’m determined to teach the girls how to play this summer. I don’t know how they’ve managed to miss it, but although the kids have a double-set marble run that they build regularly, they don’t play the game the way I used to as a kid. I think it’s a good thing to learn, and maybe they can teach it to their friends. Who knows, perhaps I’ll start a classic childhood game fad at their school?

Breakfast Bagel

I noticed the other day that there was a Cadman’s Montreal Bagels open now at the intersection of the Vanier Parkway and Montreal Road, so I thought that I’d try it out. Bagels are a staple in our household, whether I make them myself or buy them from a bakery or grocery store. When I was a kid, my parents would take us almost every weekend for breakfast at Bagel Bagel at the corner of Clarence and William in the Byward Market, where I believe the Cornerstone Bar and Grill is now. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Montreal frequently and try fresh bagels there from a variety of restaurants and bakeries. The signs outside of Cadman’s proclaimed that they were the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa, so I was intrigued.

I purchased the All Day Breakfast Bagel Combo for $6.59 (plus tax), with an additional bowl of fresh fruit salad for another couple of bucks. The sandwich is on any of their freshly-baked bagels (I chose pumpernickel) and is topped with an egg, cheddar cheese, and bacon, and comes with a latke and a drink. One of the things that my photo fails to convey is how absolutely huge the portions are. The bagels here are especially massive. I came out of there stuffed after a late breakfast and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

But are they the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa? Personally, I don’t think so. A good Montreal-style bagel is, to me, quite chewy, and these bagels were very soft. They also didn’t have the slightly sour tang that I associate with that kind of bagel. Perhaps they’re not working the dough long enough, boiling them long enough (or at all?), or using a high-enough protein flour. Whatever the reason, these bagels are really light and fluffy. Now, I know that some people prefer theirs that way, and there’s nothing technically wrong with a fluffy bagel. However, to me a Montreal-style bagels should be chewy and dense.

That being said, overall the breakfast was quite tasty, and it was good value for money. It wasn’t the best Montreal-style bagel I’ve had in Ottawa, but it was pretty good in its own right. So I’ll probably be back.

Earth Day

Yesterday I spent most of Earth Day on my bicycle, which I think is appropriate. It was less because it was Earth Day and more because the weather was finally nice (you’d never know we had an ice storm a week before), and I love to cycle.

I cycled with my mother along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, taking a break in the middle of the ride for a lovely bite to eat in the Glebe. A good deal of maintenance had been done since the ice storm, so most of the big branches had been pulled off of paths and roads, but the large numbers of smaller sticks and twigs sometimes made it dicey going. Every so often we’d find an area with constant shade, and we’d have to be careful of the ice hidden there. The water was really high on the river (although definitely not as bad as last year’s major flooding), so some of the bike paths that run alongside were a little dicey and sometimes inaccessible. Amusingly, when we traveled alongside the canal we realized that it has yet to be raised back to navigation level and was almost dry at the bottom — the water level is controlled by a series of dams and weirs, and it’s only partially filled in the winter to create ice for the skateway.

While the plants have yet to green up, the bugs were starting to reemerge (I learned that gnats stick to sunscreen) and we saw a plethora of birds. Although there were worries that the robins would starve in the late freezing weather, we did see quite a few of them. Also in large numbers were pigeons, gulls, and Canada geese; although we didn’t see many of them, we did hear songbirds singing in the trees. We even spotted the odd pigeon in the photo above, which caught our eyes because the pigeons around here generally have colouring more like this.

Honestly, it wasn’t the prettiest day. Despite the clear blue sky and the sun shining down, this isn’t the most beautiful time of year to be a tourist. If you wanted to film/photograph something with a post-apocalyptic vibe, this is the time to do it. Just wait a few weeks, though, and it will be beautiful again!

I did do a couple of things that are kind of stereotypically Canadian today, now that it’s warmed up a bit. First, I took my outdoor Christmas lights down. If you live in warmer climes that probably seems quite late, but although I turned mine off on January 1st, by then they were frozen to the ground and under a thick layer of ice and snow. Only now had things melted back enough that I could actually take them down!

Also, today I shoveled the lawn. That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t live where there’s a great deal of snow, so let me explain. At the end of the winter, you’re always left with a few drifts that are the last to melt, usually in areas that don’t get much sun or where you pile snow when you shovel your driveway or paths clear. Well, I have a few spots like that, and I’ve learned over the years that if I want them to melt (and hence dry out) a little faster, I can throw the top layers of snow into the parts of the yard that actually get regular sun. I know it’ll all melt eventually if I just leave it, but by this point in the year I’m impatient for the change of seasons. It probably only takes a couple of days less to melt the snow if I shovel it, but it makes me feel better, gosh darn it!

For our Earth Day dinner, my husband cooked us up some steak and zucchini on the wood pellet grill, which I served with some nice homemade bread. We had actually intended to have hamburgers, but I think everyone else in town had the same idea and we couldn’t find buns for love nor money. I think anyone who could do so fired up the barbecue and cooked outside, if only as an excuse to do something out in the lovely weather. I mean, it went up to 16°C (61°F) for the first time since around October, so I really don’t blame them. Ah well, our dinner was probably healthier than burgers anyway — and it was delicious!

Saint Patrick’s Day Thrifting

This past Saturday I spent the day with a good friend of mine down in the Glebe. We started with a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch at Patty’s Pub, where we had great food and conversation while we listened to the live band playing Irish folk music. Then we headed out to 613flea (a great urban flea market) just up the road in the Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. When we finished there, we browsed the Ottawa Antique Market, and then we rounded out our day by perusing a second-hand charity shop. I know it’s not the kind of thing that everyone’s into (heaven knows my husband has no interest whatsoever), but my friend and I had a fabulous time!

Of course, I did return home with a few treasures. I think my favourite one of the bunch is a copy of the 1889 (seventieth edition) printing of the 1877 volume The Home Cook Book, which was compiled by the Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns in Canada as a fundraiser for the Sick Kids Hospital. From what I understand, this is the very first Canadian cookbook that was compiled by an organization to be sold in order to raise funds. It’s such a common thing to do these days (especially as it gets easier and easier to self-publish inexpensively) that most of us who like to cook have at least one of these in our collection — and have probably contributed to a few.

I’m really looking forward to diving into this book and trying to recreate some of the recipes. It’s going to be interesting, because the instructions are sparse and often vague as so many old cookbooks often are, since they assume a great deal of previous experience on the part of the reader. The book also refers to culinary techniques, measurements, and ingredients we don’t use any more. I mean, what is a quiet oven? Or a quick oven? Do we even grow Spitzenberg or Greening apples any more in Canada? When they talk about currants, do they mean dried or fresh? How much does a wineglass hold? Or a teacup? I’m going to be doing a lot of Googling, I tell you.

Now, I love the feel and smell of old books, but this is the digital age after all and the book is well out of copyright. It was actually archived online by the University of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library; you can check it out in all its glory here. Or if you’re like me and you don’t want your old books contaminated by kitchen spatter, when you’re cooking you can always pull up the digital version on your phone or tablet.

The fantastic old cookbook wasn’t my only find, though! I picked up an 8×10″ print of Carabara Designs‘ hand-lettered print of the “Do you want ants?” quote from the TV show Archer. I am constantly amazed by my kids’ capability to utterly destroy the kitchen with two pieces of toast, so I’ve been thinking this a lot lately.

The print has pride of place on the side of the cupboard above the kitchen counter peninsula, hopefully where the kids will see it. But kids being kids, they probably won’t even notice. Ah, well. I think it’s perfect, and it even matches the paint job. Now all I need is a coordinating print to go underneath.

Last but not least, I picked up some Fuzzy Navel Jam from Tastes of Temptation. This jam tastes just like summer, which is exactly what I need right about now. Honestly, I liked everything they had on offer, but this was the one that made me smile the most. Spread on a piece of fresh homemade bread, it makes a divine snack with a cup of tea!

Family Day Chicken Dinner

Yesterday was Family Day, which is neither a religious nor a festival holiday. Rather, it is mostly an excuse to have a day off in February (a month with no other statutory holidays in Ontario) when you are nominally supposed to spend doing fun things with your family. This year I didn’t even get to spend it with my entire household, since my husband was off to Sweden on business, the lucky duck. I’ve never had a job where they flew me halfway around the world to attend meetings, I’ll tell you that right now. So while he was visiting the Arctic Circle…

And driving on ice roads…

And eating smoked moose and visiting fortresses, I am here at home with the kids. I might just be a little bit jealous.

(From his photos, Sweden during the winter looks a heck of a lot like it does here in Canada, so I’m not as jealous as I might be if he were in the Bahamas or something. And to be fair, the only time he had to go explore was the weekend, since he is working. I’m trying to talk my way out of jealousy here, and it’s not working very well.)

I’d hoped to take the kids to Winterlude and possibly skating on the canal, but it’s been unseasonably warm since Sunday and it started pissing down rain about halfway through Monday. So instead we went to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum for the afternoon. The highlight was all of the baby animals — most of whom, like the calf above, didn’t want to stay still long enough for a good picture. But the kids were thrilled to be able to pet the sheep and the goats and the calves, so it was a win. The calves were big favourites, since they were very sociable and leaned right into a good scratch. A few of them made my kids laugh by licking their hands and arms; I’m not sure whether they were looking for food, or tasting salt, or just investigating, but by the time we were out of the cow barn all of our winter coats needed a wash. After raising children and small animals, cow slobber doesn’t bother me that much, but that doesn’t mean I want to be wearing it any longer than I have to!

Given that we were out and about well after I’d usually be starting dinner, I needed something easy to feed the family when we got home. In the oven, I reheated the Costco rotisserie chicken that I’d bought the day before. I pricked a few potatoes with a fork and microwaved them until they were soft for easy “baked” potatoes. And then I steamed some spinach. Not the fanciest meal in my repertoire, but we had all worked up an appetite from our adventures, so it went down well.

Fast Food Ramen

I fell in love with ramen (restaurant-style, not the cheap instant packages) when I first went to Japan in 1998, and I fell back in love when I returned in 2005. There is such a variety of ways that it can be prepared, and such a plethora of potential toppings, that I could eat it every day and not get bored. When Ginza Restaurant opened in Ottawa’s Chinatown and focused on selling the best ramen I’ve had outside of Japan, I could not have been more ecstatic. (Seriously, try their hakata tonkotsu ramen, it is to die for.) For the longest time it was the only place in town where I could get this wonderful noodle dish. Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the popularity of ramen is slowly growing, and it’s starting to be available all over town, much as Vietnamese pho came to be about ten years ago. If this means that we’ll end up with over fifty restaurants that serve ramen in Ottawa, I couldn’t be more pleased!

Here are a few of the ones that I have tried so far, all of which fall under fast food/takeout:

Umi Teriyaki & Sushi
Rideau Centre Food Court, 50 Rideau Street

This was the first non-Ginza ramen that I tried in town, and I was quite ready to be disappointed. The austere food court in the Rideau Centre mall isn’t exactly the place you go for haute cuisine — it’s where you go to grab a quick, mediocre bite. I mean, this is definitely fast food, but it’s cheap ($8.49 for the chicken teriyaki ramen that I had), flavourful, and satisfying. The noodles could use to be a bit chewier (a hallmark of good ramen is the chewy alkaline noodles, which don’t dissolve in the broth), but overall this was worth the money. Ask for it spicy (medium or hot) to clear your sinuses on a cold winter’s day.

Saigon Pho
232 Bank Street and 3722 Innes Road, Unit 2

At $13.49 for takeout and $12.49 for dine-in, this was the most expensive ramen so far. Heck, the most expensive ramen at Ginza is only $11.95! So for that price, I expected more. The broth is nice and the noodles are chewy, but they are really skimpy on the toppings. I did like that there were a variety of ways that you could customize your order. I had the tonkotsu black: tonkotsu broth with black garlic oil, pork belly, soft boiled egg, black fungus, and green onion. I just don’t think that you’re getting value for money on this one, though.

Nom Nom Kitchen
2160 Montreal Road, Unit 4

Nom Nom Kitchen is a little Asian fusion takeout place with a few dine-in tables located in a strip mall directly across from a McDonald’s. It’s not very glamorous, but the food is good, and it’s also very reasonably priced. Their lunch specials are usually around $7.00 and are generously portioned. Ramen isn’t one of their specials, sadly, and it isn’t on their online menu. It’s about $10.49 for a bowl of Japanese-style tonkotsu with pork, veggies, and soft-boiled eggs. They also offer a dish that is, I believe, a fusion of Japanese and Korean styles, and is a bit more spicy. Since this restaurant is aimed at a take-out clientele, the presentation is only mediocre, but the flavour is lovely, the broth is tasty, and the noodles are nice and chewy. I only wish that the eggs were more soft-boiled than hard. Even so, I have been back many times now and everyone I’ve taken with me has liked their food. If you value flavour over appearances, I would rank this ramen #1 of the four I’m reviewing today.

Bento Sushi
St. Laurent Mall Food Court, 1200 St. Laurent Boulevard

There are a lot of Bento Sushi locations, most of which you’ll find tucked into grocery stores peddling mediocre takeout sushi. But they do have a few standalone locations, one of which is in the food court of the St. Laurent Mall. Since this is a big chain that isn’t exactly known for its high-quality food, I went in not expecting much. However, as with Umi Teriyaki & Sushi, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best ramen I have ever had, but the broth was nice and the toppings were flavourful. The noodles weren’t as chewy as I like, but they weren’t horrible either. I had their chasu ramen with tonkotsu (from their menu: “thin noodles in a tonkotsu pork broth with carrots, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and fish cake”), which was $9.99. Overall, their ramen was miles better than their sushi, which may be damning them with faint praise. But I’ll take their ramen over just about anything else in the food court — except maybe Jimmy the Greek‘s pork souvlaki and salad.

If anyone else has suggestions for ramen in Ottawa that I should try, drop me a comment with the name and location. I’d be more than happy to check them out! I have absolutely no qualms about eventually having eaten at every ramen-serving restaurant in this city.

Weekend Craft Fairs

I’ve spent a good portion of my last few weekends at craft fairs and flea markets, searching for those elusive perfect gifts for friends and family. Last weekend I visited the 2017 Christmas Craft Market at Watson’s Mill in Manotick, the Russel Flea Market, and the Holiday Miracles Handmade Fair. This weekend I attended the Fisher Park Christmas Craft Sale (always a good one, held the first Saturday of December every year at 250 Holland Avenue), the Christmas Bazaar at the Parkdale United Church (also a lovely yearly event, at 429 Parkdale Avenue), and my favourite of them all, 613Christmas at the 613Flea Market.

The 613Christmas flea market filled up the entire field house at Carleton University, which is a 58m x 49m indoor turf field. Not only was it a huge space packed to the brim with vendors and customers, but the artificial turf was much more comfortable underfoot than most places’ concrete and tile (or occasionally hardwood).

There were stalls with a plethora of interesting finds. I took quick pics of the ones that were the most interesting to me, but there was a lot more variety than that.

The booths with vintage kitchenware were my favourites. I drool over Thoroughly Modern Vintage‘s stuff every time I see her at an event.

Although I do have a soft spot for stuffies like the ones from Truly Charlotte.

Of course, there were all kinds of vintage Christmas finds at a market this close to the holidays (although I’m not sure I’d trust the old lights not to overheat or have broken-down wiring).

I have a special soft spot in my heart for all of the super-sparkly and super-fragile glass bulbs that are just like the ones my mother and grandmother hung on their trees. I especially favour the ones with a concave indent to catch the light, like the one that you can just see in the top left of this photo.

The highlight of my day was meeting Charles de Lint at 613Flea. This local author was there promoting his latest novels and signing autographs. I’ve been reading his novels since I was a kid and I especially like the urban fantasies set in the Ottawa area. I loved Greenmantle, Memory and Dream, and Jack, the Giant Killer, just off of the top of my head, although I have read so many more. (Although could I remember the titles when I was chatting with him, oh heavens no, I just stood there um-ing and aw-ing as if I didn’t have two brain cells to rub together.) We even studied one of his books in high school, and despite my teacher’s best efforts to study it to death, I still came out of that class enjoying his work — which is more than I can say for other authors I studied. To contrast, I would rather stab myself with a knitting needle before I read Shoeless Joe, Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies again.

So I bought a copy of the beautifully-illustrated The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (2013) and asked Mr. de Lint to personalize it for Thing 1. I really hope that she will grow up to be as big of a fan as I am.