City Girl Whisky Diary: Whisky stereotypes and touring the softer side with Tomatin Distillery 

Okay, ladies. This question’s mostly for you. Regardless of whether you enjoy a dram or not, when you think about whisky, what comes to mind? Don Draper from Mad Men? Stuffy old men with cigars? It tastes like rocket fuel?

The second and latter of those were my thoughts on whisky for the longest time. And then I travelled to Scotland the first time. Turns out I had been trying the wrong kinds of Scotch. And then one day, I found one that didn’t taste (for me) like rocket fuel; and another. But that’s a story for another day. My point is that while the vast selection of whisky available can be intimidating and deterring (as discussed in City Girl Whisky Diary #1), so can the misconceptions and stereotypes.

So let’s squash the stereotypes. 1) Yes, Don Draper drank sale increasing amounts of whisky on Mad Men (though it wasn’t Scotch, it was Canadian Club), but Peggy Olson steamed her way into the advertising boys club and sipped whisky while she was breaking through that pesky glass ceiling. Whisky is not just for men to enjoy. 2) Whisky is not old and stuffy. It’s fresh and fun – but if you want to smoke a cigar while drinking it, go for it; and 3) Everyone’s taste palate is different. What tastes like rocket fuel to one person isn’t the same for another. I, again, encourage everyone to get curious and figure out what they like. While some can taste a bit harsh, there are some lovely, softer tasting Scotch whiskies out there.

THE SOFTER SIDE

Case in point: Tomatin Distillery, with their award winning Highland single malts and recent rebranding to their ‘Softer Side of the Highlands’ slogan and campaign. The girls and I went there for a tour on our recent Highlands road trip and we had a great time.

When I was researching distilleries us to visit, I came across Tomatin on Google Maps as it is right near where we were staying. I clicked on their link and immediately fell in love with the coo (not a typo) in red wellies on their landing page.

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Right?! How can you not fall in love this adorable creature?

I did some digging, and kind of like how I occasionally buy wine based on fun or pretty bottle labels, I decided we needed to go this place based on their ad campaign. And this description of their product:

The smooth, rounded hills sheltering the Tomatin Distillery reflect the softer side of nature in this quiet corner of the Highlands. Here, bubbling pure spring water, tender barley and gentle patience all go into creating an incredibly soft Highland whisky. A whisky which is as easy to enjoy as it is hard to forget.

Who doesn’t want to taste that? I immediately emailed them to arrange a tour.

Located 16 miles south of Inverness and 15 miles north of Aviemore, Tomatin is a beautiful and incredibly vast property. When you’re driving up to the Visitor Centre, it feels like you’re en route to the manor house in a historical novel. It’s obviously not a manor house, but you know what I mean. That being said, there are homes on the property, as most of the staff live on the grounds.  (I had an ‘awww’ moment when I found out that the Office Manager and Groundsman are married.)

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THE TOUR

Tomatin opened in 1897 and has gone through the highs and the lows of the alcohol industry in its 120 years. Though Tomatin is now Japanese owned, their owners have left them be to combine their legacy and tradition with 21st-century marketing and technology. An example of this ‘blend’ is the on-site Cooper who makes all the casks, and the VR headsets they bring to trade shows so people can virtually tour the distillery and grounds. (Fun fact: The Cooper is the son of the Office Manager and Groundsman.)

But if you’re after an in person tour, this is a fantastic one. We were put on their first Legacy Tour of the day, with the adorable Scott as our tour guide. He was very knowledgeable and entertaining, which always makes a tour that much more fun. All the Tomatin visitor tours take you step-by-step through the whisky making process and end in the tasting room. The Legacy Tour, at £8, is the basic and most #GetThrifty option that includes tasting of three of their selections.

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Our tour guide, Scott.
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Malted grain

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Yeast
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Scott checking things out.

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Tomatin runs a very impressive operation and the tour is top knotch. Very tangible and nothing really like any of the tours I’ve been on in the past. I mean, how many places have decommissioned mash tuns that you can stand in?

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Me in a decommissioned mash tun. It was easily the hotel room!

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Ready for some barrel photos? I took a lot. Sorry, not sorry.

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TASTING

When we got to the tasting room, I was very excited that we got to taste their lightly peated Cù Bòcan (named for a mythical black beast). This was right in my wheel-house. The 12 Year and Legacy were a pleasant surprise for me as they were, as advertised, very smooth and much softer in their taste than most Highland whiskies I’ve tried. The 12 Year was particularly lovely. These are excellent options for if you’re curious but don’t want anything too strong in taste.

Normally, a non-peated whisky tends to illicit a wrinkled nose look on my face when the liquid hits a certain point in my throat. I’ve been told it’s a cute look, but I was pleased my palate managed to not embarrass me.

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As most places with tastings do these days, Tomatin acknowledges the poor soul who didn’t get to experience the tasting: the designated driver. Alison got to leave with a very nice little bottle of the Legacy whisky. I thought this was a nice touch, and spoke to the quality of the company and what they put forward. The shop also provides the option to fill your own bottle of their cask strength distillery exclusive whisky.

We had such a good time and I highly recommend a distillery tour (particularly this one!) as a fun activity for a group of friends, a date, or for a family (we had one on our tour). Personally, I would like to go back and do their tutored nosing and tasting, which is part of their Single Cask Experience. Like with wine, I want to get better at these skills.

I hope you get a chance to visit this lovely place!

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P.S. If you’re curious about the whisky making process, here’s a great infographic from Tomatin. It describes things way better than I ever could!

Thank you to the Tomatin Distillery marketing team for making this excursion possible! As alway, opinions are my own.

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I love a Scotch that’s old enough to order its own Scotch.

~ Robin Scherbatsky (from How I Met Your Mother) ~

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The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Soho with Eating London Tours

Before I left for my trip in May, I was quizzing my expat colleagues about where the girls and I should eat and drink for our three nights in London. They all recommended one place: Soho. Though I’ve been to London many times, it was an area that, aside from the theatres, I had no paid much attention to. Having now explored a bit, I can safely say shame on me.

Located in the West End of London, Soho is London’s nightlife hot spot. It has morphed, chameleon-like over the decades, from being the place to find certain company and activities (you know what I mean), to the hub of the rag trade and mod 60’s culture, to music central, and where one goes to the theatre. Plus a few things in between. With the 21st century came the hipsters and a culinary rejuvenation. Mixed with trendy shops, theatres, and a few cheeky reminders of the area’s more notorious history, Soho is now a multicultural foodie paradise.

With that, where to start?? So many restaurants and bars tucked into the nooks and alleyways make the decision of where to eat, and where to find the best gin and tonic (important!) a bit of a challenge. (Particularly when on a budget in a country whose currency is whooping yours’ behind.) That’s where Eating London Tours comes in with their Twilight Soho Food & Cocktails Tour.

The Basics

  • Walking tour through Soho
  • Six restaurants/bars
  • Sizable appetizer servings and beverages at each stop
  • Amazing tour guide to walk you through Soho’s history and current culture
  • 3-4 hours of fun!

The Breakdown

The tour starts outside the Palace Theatre, where you can look on with envy at those picking up their Harry Potter tickets. We were a mixed group of Canadian, Aussie, Irish, and Russian nationals, which was a reminder that wherever you’re from in the world, food is a universal language. ❤️

Our tour guide, Ashleigh, was fabulous. Her enthusiasm for food and sharing the history of the area was incredibly contagious. Not that we weren’t excited to be there, but having a happy and engaging tour guide is always a bonus!

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The Spirit of Soho Mural
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Our fabulous tor guide.

1. LA BODEGA NEGRA

(Website / 16 Moor Street, Soho)

Located in what used to be a peep show shop, our first stop was La Bodega Negra, for some traditional Mexican tacos and margaritas. Mexican food in London? Si. Good Mexican food. My love for cooking started in Mexico, so I’m picky, but I was very impressed.

A play on fish and chips and mushy peas was served in the traditional house-made tacos and made for a zippy spin on some British favourites. Frozen strawberry margaritas were on the menu for our group, but as I’m allergic to strawberries, I ended up with a lime margarita on the rocks. If you know me, you know this made me the happiest camper.

The girls and I ended up back at La Bodega Negra the next night after going to the theatre, and it was hopping. No lineup, but full and boisterous with a really great party vibe. The margaritas are a bit pricey for the size, but for the multiple kinds of tequila that they use, it’s worth it. On point tequila to lime ratio.

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Margarita on the rocks.
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La Bodega Negra starts out quiet but turns in to a lively place later in the evening.
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Fish & Chips Taco, Mushy Peas Taco

2. THE LONDON GIN CLUB

(Website / 22 Great Chapel St.)

Next stop was The Gin Club at The Star. The building used to be a 1930’s cocktail bar and is now a family run establishment where, Julia, the owner, makes the in-house gin. And it’s fabulous. One of my friends, Alison, is all about a G&T. So this was her jam.

We were brought down a staircase to a tube station like room and served gin infused beef pie (yum!) while we were taught how to properly pour and enjoy a gin and tonic. (The bowl of the glass should be larger in order to better smell and taste the gin, and – because it’s all about flavour preference – your tonic should be poured by YOU. Not the bartender. So 90% of bars outside of the UK are doing this wrong. Huh.) Next time I’m in London, I plan on going back so I can do a proper tasting flight and make a very small dent in the 360(!) kinds of gin they have available.

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Not sure about you, but I’m going left.
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Alison found her happy place!
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Gin and tonic with gin-infused beef pie.

3. ENRIQUE TOMAS

(Website / 132 Wardour Street)

This was hands down my favourite stop of the tour. More a shop than a restaurant, Enrique Tomás is essentially the reason I won’t ever be a vegetarian or vegan. I really and truly enjoy pork products and I am not ashamed to admit it. Prosciutto makes my mouth water. And now I’m crushing on its Spanish cousin, jamón, with its melt in your mouth amazing goodness.

We were sat at the large table near the back of the shop, with a placemat illustrating the different kinds of jamón, and how and where it gets raised. Lovely Spanish red wine was poured to go with the ham and manchego cheese all strategically placed on our plates, and a very shy, but passionate employee guided us through our delicious tasting journey. It was an unexpected prep session for the upcoming Barcelona leg of our trip and I could have stayed there and eaten for the rest of the evening.

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Expensive and tasty Jamón Ibérico.
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Vino, jamón, manchego. All set!

4. PIX PINTXOS

(Website / 16 Bateman St.)

Feeling incredibly happy, we were ushered by Ashleigh to Pix Bar, where we continued the Spanish theme of things. With four locations in London, Pix Bar is where you want to go to get your tapas, or pintxos fix. (Pintxos are Basque snacks skewered with wooden sticks. This knowledge was filed away for Barcelona and came very handy.) The Soho location is great for people watching and it frequented by a lot of media. If you’re up for a bit of mischief, there’s a cocktail bar in the basement called Rooms by the Hour. Which, P.S., used to be a 1970’s adult cinema. (In case you missed it, Soho has a past. Ha.)

The tour includes two pintxos skewers. Make sure you scope it all out, like a buffet, before you choose. Because there’s a lot to select from to go with the fabulous white wine they serve you, called Txakoli. As far as white wines go, Txakoli is very dry and has a subtle sparkle to it. It’s served with great fanfare, poured from a height, with no spills. Tom Cruise has nothing on these bartenders.

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Pintxos
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Pintxos and salad.
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Txakoli wine pouring. No spills!

5. OPIUM

(Website / The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard St.)

Next stop was Opium, in what we found out is Europe’s largest Chinatown. It’s technically not part of Soho, but I’m so glad that it was on this tour. Opium is located behind a jade coloured door with a very polite bouncer standing guard. Styled like a Shanghai opium den, there are three floors and multiple rooms. Be prepared to climb some stairs. I promise it’s worth the climb.

We were treated to a Chinese tea cocktail and incredibly tasty dim sum. The cocktail reminded me of a more exciting version of kombucha. Be careful, it’s easy to drink. Chinese tradition is that you don’t ever pour your own drink. Your cup will be refilled, a lot.

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Chinese tea and dim sum
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Chinatown

6. BASEMENT SATE

(Website / 8 Broadwick St.)

The last stop on our tour, Basement Sate is a blink and you’ll miss it gem with an unmarked door and a very discreet plaque. We got to the top of the stairs and the first thing one of my friends said was “I don’t want to leave”. I concurred. We hadn’t even sat down yet. But that’s the reaction this very Manhatten like cocktail and dessert bar will elicit from most. Yes, cocktails AND desserts.

One sparkly cocktail and an incredible hazelnut treat later, we asked Ashleigh if there was any way we could stay. The tour needs to end in a certain spot, but she made our little quartet a reservation to come back a bit later. We went back and it felt like we were on a girls’ night out in an episode of Sex and the City. Basement Sate is on point. I recommend the Notting Hill.

Life and work have made it so we don’t get to see each other very often, so I really loved getting to be out on the town having fancy G&T’s with three of my best friends.

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Hazelnut perfection
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The Notting Hill G&T

This tour was a fantastic introduction to Soho’s restaurant and bar scene and was great value for money. It’s definitely the most budget friendly way to experience a cool area of an expensive city. If you think about it, on a girls’ night out, you might take turns buying rounds, but that adds up. Especially when you include food and gratuity (usually added on to the bill for you by the establishment you are in).

In addition to Soho, Eating London also has Brick Lane (Indian food) and East End (comfort food) options in London. Eating Europe also has tours in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, and Prague. You can tell they have worked to cultivate relationships with their restaurant partners and everything is top notch. I highly recommend checking them out.

Make sure you wear your walking shoes and, if you’re in London, have an umbrella. Enjoy!

#GetThrifty – The lovely Ashleigh gave us a 10% discount code to use for future tours, and I’m so happy to share with you. Visit Eating London’s website and enter ASHLEIGH when at the payment page to get the discount. Every penny helps!

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This London food tour was made possible in part by Eating Europe Tours. As always, all opinions are my own.

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People who love to eat are always the best people.

~ Julia Child ~

City Girl Whisky Diary: Scotch Whisky Experience

Whisky. The Scots call this lovely amber liquid  “The Water of Life”. With this, you know that they take their Scotch very seriously. (For example, it’s whisky, not whiskey with an ‘e’. This is a thing.) And there are endless kinds. So if you’re new to whisky, it can all be a bit daunting when you’re trying to figure out where to start.

My whisky palate has been cultivating for a few years now (I’m an Islay whisky girl), but if you’re like me, a million questions might run through the circuit board of your brain: How do they make it? What kind should I try? Which distillery do I go to? (So many to choose from!) Do I have time? What if it doesn’t taste good? Is there tasting etiquette? Is there a spit bucket? (Gross! Wait, what am I, five years old?? That’s how you sometimes taste wine. Hmmm.) What if I can’t hide the nose wrinkle that happens when I don’t like what I’m tasting?What’s a good price for a bottle? And so on and so forth.

Well, whether you’re short on time, with just a day or two in Edinburgh, or if you have the good fortune of getting to take your time travelling through Scotland (do it – it’s amazing), the place to start answering your questions and whet your whisky appetite is the Scotch Whisky Experience on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. My friends and I started our girls trip there and it was fabulous.

Whisky’s Edinburgh Home

This top notch venue offers an interactive and entertaining way to learn about the history of whisky, how it’s made, and what kind is right for you. Friendly staff greets you at the front, as does a very Hogwarts-like ghost named Douglas McIntyre – your host for the barrel ride that will take you through their virtual distillery. You are essentially the whisky being made. One of my favourite parts was what I dubbed the yeast bubble discotheque. There are different tour options, but they all start with the virtual experience.

Sensory Delight

Your barrel drops you off for some self-learning about barreling and aging before you are guided into the theatre to learn about the different whisky regions.  This is where you start using what I consider the most important sense on this journey, your sense of smell. The fact that they give you a scratch and sniff map of the regions delighted me to no end. Yes, I kept mine.

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Scratch and sniff whisky map!

What Whisky is Right for YOU?

Your guide then shifts you into the Blender’s Sample Room, where you are visited again by Mr. McIntyre and introduced to what are called the holodrams. All I could think was Harry Potter. I was so tickled by this. Yes, I know, I’m a complete dork.

You then get to choose what region of whisky you want to have a dram of. If you can’t decide, there is blend available.  And then, off you go into The Collection to learn about how to taste your whisky.

(Something to remember: this is a learning experience. It’s all about trial and error, and you might love the one you choose, or you might not. That’s why your tour ends at the tasting room. I encourage you to get curious!)

Hear the Angels Sing

When you walk into the stunning The Diageo Claive Vidiz Whisky Collection and see 3,384(!) beautifully displayed (and full) whisky bottles in their cases, there will be a collective gasp in awe from everyone you are with. The angels will sing in your mind, and you will feel like the very impressive glass and marble vault is heaven. I’m not kidding – I got goosebumps.

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The Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection. Image provided by the Scotch Whisky Experience.

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Your guide will take you through the tasting steps and then it’s all about the photos ops and staring at the amazing collection.

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Claive Vidiz, a Brazilian gentleman who used to travel to the UK a lot for work, became a collector in the 1970’s. A friend brought him six different bottles of Islay whiskies, and he fell in love. Laphroaig is the first whisky I ever actually enjoyed, so I completely understand why his senses went “yes!” Over 35 years, he collected the almost 3,500 bottles of Scotch that are now on display.

There is even a Canada connection, with a few bottles of Hudson’s Bay Company Whisky from the 1960’s!

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My failed artsy shot. Luckily, the lovely marketing people at the Scotch Whisky Experience have saved my bacon by sharing the below artsy whisky glass shot with me. Thank you!
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Image courtesy of the Scotch Whisky Experience.

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Slainte mhath!

Check It Out

The Scotch Whisky Experience offers a variety of tours. Any of the options are excellent to check out on your own, or with friends; and are fantastic value for money. With cost and time restraints being kept in mind, we took the 50 minute Silver Tour, but I would definitely go back to do any of the upgraded tours the next time I am in Edinburgh. It’s going to blow the Brit’s mind!

#GetThrifty Tips

  • The Silver Tour is the basic and most economical option. It includes one taster and you get to bring home your tasting glass. (They give you a box – for which I was very grateful!)
  • If you have a valid post-secondary student card, you get the Concession rate for the Silver and Gold Tours. Your student card is a valuable thing to remember for when you are travelling, as many tourist attractions, museums, etc have a student rate. So remember to bring that card!

The Scotch Whisky Experience is located just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Be sure to check it out! Slainte mhath!

An appreciation of prose is learned, not instinctive. It is an acquired taste, like Scotch whisky.

~ Abigail Padgett ~


This outing was made possible in partnership with the Scotch Whisky Experience. Some images have been provided by them, and have been credited as such.

Scotch Whisky Experience


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Island Road Trip – My Top 8 Things to Do in Victoria

It’s been a busy few weeks, but I’ve finally had a chance to go through photos and do a road trip download from my notes.

The Island is a perfect place for a road trip, and the Brit and I celebrated his birthday with four-and-a-half days of exploring. (As my calling him “The Brit” would suggest, he isn’t from here, so I love visiting places with him that I haven’t been to in a long time. It gives me a fresh lens.)

We started in Victoria and, from there, focused our attention on the eastern side of the Island. (The west side and the crazy all-season surfing people will have to be for another time!) Though we were only in Victoria for about 36 hours, we got a lot in. Here is my Victoria Top 8:

My Top 8 Things to Do in Victoria

1. Fuel-Up 
There is a wonderful place called Roost Farm Centre; about 10 minutes drive from Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. It is in North Saanich, not in Victoria proper, but it was my favourite place that we ate at while we were on the Island. Farm, winery, bakery, bistro. Everything is made on-site from food grown and raised on their acreage. So good. Check out my post on Roost Farm Centre, here. For other restaurant suggestions in Victoria, click here.

2. B&B It
I’m a huge fan of bed and breakfasts. Particularly if they are run by nice people in lovely, heritage homes that have been well maintained (and serve a tasty breakfast). a) You get breakfast (win!); b) You’re not staying in a cut and dry hotel; and c) Good price point and warm customer service. We stayed at Fisher House Bed and Breakfast in the James Bay neighbourhood, and would absolutely stay again. Check out some of the best Victoria B&Bs here.

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The Deluxe Florence Suite at Fisher House Bed and Breakfast.

Get Thrifty: Travel websites like Expedia and Red Tag will often have the best rates available for accommodations. Trip Advisor is a great site for price comparisons and reviews. 

3. Get Political
Victoria is British Columbia’s capital city and home to our BEAUTIFUL Legislative Assembly building. They offer free (yes!) public tours on non-sitting days, but we didn’t have time to catch one. I remember walking through during a school field trip, and recognising, even when I was 12, that the architecture is amazing. The building still had white Christmas lights up (which I believe is a year-round thing?), which made for a nice evening walk and some pretty pictures.

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The Legislative Assembly, by night.

4. Get Your Step On
Everywhere. Victoria is a great place to give your Fitbit a workout. They have a good transit system, but you don’t need it downtown. Particularly on a nice day. Our B&B was a ten-minute walk away from the Legislature and the walk along Inner Harbour is a treat. Google Maps is your friend. Figure out what you want to do and map it out with sustenance pit stops.IMG_2795

5. Hop Along
Victoria has a thriving craft beer scene and is the home of Driftwood and Spinnaker’s, to name a couple. The city also recently had their annual beer week. We were a couple weeks early for that, so we did our own little tour, but you can also do a set tour. The spots we visited were:

  • Canoe Brewpub – Located on the edge of Chinatown, Canoe has a spectacular waterfront view from a fabulous patio that I can only imagine is always full up in the summer. Enjoy the canoes and chandeliers hung from the high wood beam ceiling over a flight of beer – the best way to try a mix of their core and seasonal brews. Our waiter also gave us a behind the scenes tour when he found out The Brit has been homebrewing his own IPA.
  • Phillips Brewing and Malting Co. – Get your growler on at this place. They do brisk refill business and have a very large selection of beers. They are well known for their Blue Buck Ale and name all their beers in a rather quirky fashion. (Electric Unicorn, anyone?) Their Ginger Beer and Longboat Chocolate Porter were my favourites to taste.
  • Moon Brewery and Pub – This was a recommendation from our waiter at Canoe. It’s a bit of a walk, but definitely worth it. The Dark Side of the Moon Oatmeal Stout is tasty, and Fridays apparently involve Music Bingo, so two solid reasons to go back.
  • The Churchill – Not a brewery, but this Government Street gem was a Google Map search find and I recommend it as a place to visit if you don’t have time to hit any breweries. The chalkboard beer menu has about 35, mostly local, selections and the beer tap setup is pretty neat. Sit at the bar if you can.
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The Churchill does not lack in selection.

Get Thrifty: A flight is the best, most cost-effective way to taste several beers (and makes for less of a fuzzy walk home!) 

6. Museum It Up
Victoria is home to the Maritime and Aviation museums, as well as Emily Carr House and others that you can find listed here, but if you’re staying in the downtown core, or are pressed for time, my picks are:

  • Royal BC Museum – Learn about BC’s history, our First Nations culture in the First Peoples Gallery, and whatever special exhibit is up for the season. The woolly mammoth is pretty spectacular, and the IMAX theatre has a variety of short documentaries throughout the day. They also show Hollywood features in the evening. The yearly pass is a wicked deal!
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Royal BC Museum First Peoples Gallery
  • The Miniatures Museum – I was just as delighted as when I was a kid when I walked back into this place. The craftsmanship of the miniatures is amazing and very clever; particularly the little puffs of smoke coming from the tiny guns. The wording of the voiceovers for the different exhibits is a bit dated, but this is a great museum to visit. Be sure to check out the King Arthur and the Canada railway exhibits.
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This was my favourite miniatures scene. Romance with grandpa in the background with his shotgun. Just in case.

Get Thrifty: Museums will sometimes do Groupon type offer. If you have a student card, use it. Every penny counts! Also, see my wildcard #9, below.

7. Lift Your Pinky Finger 
THE most touristy (and let’s face it, the most fun) thing to do in Victoria is to have afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel. Having already had this experience a couple times, I didn’t subject the Brit to a tradition of his own land – to his great relief. But it’s a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and a nice splurge. Most definitely make a reservation.

8. Stop and Smell the Roses 
Victoria is known as “The Garden City”. There is no shortage of foliage and colour, no matter the season. And then there’s the big mama of them all, Butchart Gardens. While we didn’t have the opportunity this go-round for a stroll through their beautiful grounds, it’s on the list for next time. You can also have afternoon or high tea in their fabulous dining room, and when you randomly stumble upon it, like I did a few years ago, pose on the pretty carousel horse statue. Because, why not?

And a wild card #9:

9. Be a Victoria VIP 
Though Victoria doesn’t have a year-round city pass like some bigger cities do, Attractions Victoria puts on an annual Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown weekend in February. You can buy a very reasonably priced VIP pass and get free(!) or discounted access to most of the major attractions in the Victoria area for the weekend. We were, of course, a weekend too early for this, but I love the concept of encouraging locals to rediscover their city alongside the tourists. It’s the perfect way to get thrifty.

Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

~ Hans Christian Andersen

Flashback Friday: Sinus Clearing Raspberry Martinis

My laptop is finally out of the Mac hospital (hooray!) and while my Europe photos were loading this evening, I was clicking through my iPhoto library. While flipping through, I landed on pictures from an epic Halloween party from many moons ago at my friend Alison’s parent’s house where entry was only given if we were a) dressed up; and b) dressed as something that started with a “P”. (I was a dead pageant queen.) It was a really fun night and one of the few times that I have dressed up since I was a kid.

The photos have made me feel mildly nostalgic; so, for #FlashbackFriday, I present a “recipe” for a Raspberry “Martini”. I say recipe loosely because when I mix drinks, it’s one of the few times where I am not relying on being exact. (My drinks are strong.) I also say “martini” because 75% of the time that I make this drink or something similar, it is generally served in a Solo cup…

It’s a recipe inspired by the first raspberry martini I ever had, way back when, at a Vancouver club called the Roxy. But that’s a story for another day. Maybe. Ha. 😉

RASPBERRY MARTINI

  • Servings: However many you want!!
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

*Ingredients:

  • 2 parts vodka – I’m not picky and go with what’s available, but go with your favourite or whatever is most economical.
  • 1/2 to one part Sour Puss® Raspberry
  • Splash of Triple Sec
  • Lime juice (fresh squeezed or bottled), to taste
  • 7up or Sprite to taste – more if you like our drinks on the sweeter side
  • 1 lime, sliced (for garnish)
  • Ice

*Adjust according to taste, number of people, and vessel of choice.

Method:

  1. Pour ingredients over ice in a martini shaker, Solo cup, or juice pitcher.
  2. Shake/stir/mix depending on what vessel the ingredients are being mixed in. The resulting liquid will be bright fuchsia in colour.
  3. Serve with a slice of lime on the rim or in the cup/glass.

Note: It’s a strong drink. That particular Halloween, one of my friends was suffering from a bad sinus cold. He told me he woke up the next morning completely fine and cleared up. Amazing.

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It’s a science, folks 😉

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Happy Halloween, everyone! Be safe. Have fun. xo

Eating Solo in Mexico – Part 2 and Bucerias Market

Today, I finally had more than two minutes to unpack both my Mexico and housesitting suitcases. (I left for Mexico in the middle of us housesitting.) I was sad to put away my hot weather clothes but it needed to be done. Tick mark on the to-do list.

Bucerias is a lovely little beach town a little ways north of Nuevo Vallarta. It costs under $10 CAD to get there from NV and maybe $12 CAD from PV. When I got out of my taxi at the market plaza, I was all of a sudden the most popular person there.

¡Hola, señorita! What you like to buy? I give you good price! Come see!

The words I am most familiar with in Spanish are “no, gracias“. I disappointed many a plaza vendor that afternoon. Mostly because I felt a bit harassed. The market wasn’t very full that day (a Wednesday), so they all very much wanted to make a sale. I understood, but I like to browse and that day was not a day for browsing. I wouldn’t have had any peace. So I did a quick scan while I walked through and then I got to the end of one of the aisles and a pair of earrings caught my eye. So I stopped.

And I met the very kind Roberto, who was happy to leave me be so I could browse. He and his brother, and his brother’s family (adorable children!) run that particular spot and they had some really nice wares. When I asked if the jewelery was real silver and how much the earrings were, I was informed that price is determined by the weight of the silver and that they aren’t allowed to say it’s silver if it’s not; they would lose their selling license. I was also told the price but because I was buying other things, I would get a good deal. Standard and always good to hear. 🙂

I ended up doing a bit (perhaps more than a bit) of Christmas shopping and buying a litre of vanilla. It was really hot out and I was given a bottle of water and a seat so I could view all of my possible purchases and narrow it down -I’m not made of money after all. I knew the average price of the items I was buying and I know I got a really good deal; which made me happy to spend my money there.

Like Roberto’s brother’s family, a lot of the plaza vendors live quite literally behind their shop areas. You would think that it would be dirty, but if you are nosy enough to peak inside, or if you look at them and the children, they are incredibly clean – spotless.

After my shopping, Roberto walked me to the nearest ATM so I could replenish my cash a bit as I spent a bit more than I had planned and I don’t travel with all my cash when I go out for the day.

I then went for a walk and to find what I had been looking forward to since I got on the plane. The BEST margarita ever on the face of the planet, made by the bartender at the Sunset Bar. Alas, the Sunset Bar is now called Breakers and owned by different people. I couldn’t fathom trying their margarita, because I knew that even though the spectacular view from the raised beach patio would be the same, the margarita would not. I ended up having my pre-dinner margarita at a place a couple doors down from what used to be the Sunset Bar called La Palapa, and it was good, but not the same… It was a very relaxing place to be though. I stuck my feet in the sand and enjoyed watching the random people go by.

After my margarita, I walked the beach and back up to the plaza to go through the Paseo del beso and over the bridge to walk over to where I was going to have an amazing dinner at Karen’s Place (Lazaro Cardenas in Suites Costa Dorada – Bucerias Bahia de Banderas). It was a really nice walk. I love the colours in Mexico.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to beso with on this trip but I still love this bridge and its sentiment.

Karen’s Place was a treat to myself while I was on holiday. (The funny part is that when I looked at my Visa statement, it really didn’t cost me that much.) Karen’s is one of the fancier and better known restaurants in the area. It is owned by a British lady (Karen) who arrived in Bucerias ten years ago and basically didn’t leave.

Walking up to the restaurant through the Costa Dorada courtyard. I LOVE a Mexican sunset…
Because Karen knew I was a reservation for uno, she brought me to a table with a beautiful view of the water and beach so I could have a front row seat to an amazing sunset. (I think I mentioned this before, but one of the perks of eating alone is that the restaurant takes really good care of you.)

View from my table.
My in-laws come here a lot when they are in Mexico, and I diligently said hello for them. Karen sent them a gracious hello back and left me to peruse the wonderful menu. To start, I ordered the Championes Karen’s (breaded mushrooms caps with goat cheese and fresh herbs with a chipotle ranch dip).

The mushroom caps were AMAZING. (Goat cheese makes my taste buds sing.) And when I looked up and there was no one for me to share my enthusiasm with, I have to say it was the only time that week that I felt lonely. I was at this beautiful restaurant, watching an incredible sunset, and having this wonderful food. By myself. But then I realized that I was in the best company. A very relaxed me. I wasn’t lonely, I was alone. And sometimes that’s an awesome place to be.

Okay, back to food. My entrée was the Trio which consisted of filet mignon with Merlot au jus, grilled mahi mahi with a white wine cream sauce, a jumbo coconut shrimp with tamarindo sauce, served with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. All paired with a lovely Pinot Noir – I love Pinot Noir. The meal was so delicious, particularly the coconut shrimp.

Needless to say, I ate every bite. And because I as on vacation, I ordered what turned out to be a rather large slab of chocolate cake. Unlike the deep fried ice cream at El Dinamita, I was able to eat the entire thing. (It was chocolate…)

While I was drinking my peppermint tea, Karen brought me my bill and including tip, after looking at my Visa statement, my meal was $50.00 CAD. I do love the Peso to Canadian dollar exchange rate. 

Karen and her staff run a great restaurant, with excellent service and scrumptious food. If you are ever in Bucerias, I suggest you go for dinner at Karen’s Place.

The lovely Karen.

Tasting Italia in 2 hours

The beautiful view from my desk!

Last Wednesday (a beyond beautiful hot, sunny Vancouver day), our work team buzzed out of the office early for our quarterly team builder activity. This quarter? A corporate Italian food and wine tasting seminar at Giovane at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (where we had Sean’s 30th birthday). Best team building activity, ever (so far).

Terra and I were the first to get there and we walked in to a beautifully set table and handed glasses of prosecco (bubbles – yum!) – what service! Coordinated by the wonderful Katherine – who helped me with Sean’s 30th birthday – and in the capable hands of Giovane’s beyond knowledgeable sommelier and assistant manager, Jill Spoor, we were transported through Italy in four meals and four glasses of wine.

This was my second time meeting Jill. She was away when Sean’s birthday was held but Katherine and I had a drink after work a little while ago before Sean and I had a movie date, and Jill poured me a glass of the most amazing Tuscan red (that I of course forgot to write the name of down – but it was delicious!). She spent 10 years in Italy and knows pretty much everything there is to know about the wine and food.

Our team with Jill (sitting third from right). Thanks for a great evening!

We are a chatty group (understatement), which was encouraged; as were questions. We laughed a lot, had great conversation and had, I think, some of the best wine and food outside of Italy. It made me want to go back right then and there. (That and the fact that I am currently re-reading Under the Tuscan Sun.) Jill made our 2 hour gastro-journey an amazing experience. We learned a lot. In short, Italy has a copious number of varietals – pretty much every region has one, and their climates dictate everything about how the grapes are grown and how the final product will/should taste.

(I do not pretend to know a lot about wine. I know what I like (all reds, some whites) and what I don’t like (sweet or overly buttery whites), and I’m always willing to try something new. I have now learned more, and cannot wait to go back and pick Jill’s brain a bit some more.)

We were given little notepads and I was writing so quickly, I’m surprised I can read my chicken scratches. But here we go.

Our menu for the evening:

Pecorino Renero Tuscany with Grape Jelly paired with a really, really lovely and light 2011 Argiolas (label) Costamolino (varietal) white from Sardinia. You could drink it as an aperatif, it was so light.

Vine ripened tomato caprese salad with natural pastures organics buffalo mozzarella – love, love, LOVE – paired with a nice, slightly Campagnia (region) 2011 Feudi di San Gregorio (label), Greco di tufu (varietal) white. I’m not a big fan of fresh tomatoes (though I did try – it’s a texture thing), so Terra ate my tomatoes and I went to cheese heaven with the mozzarella.

Risotto with black truffles (yum!) served by the shy Gianni (who, a little while later, brought out this incredible block – no other word for it – of prosciutto and made us all salivate). The wine pairing was a 2009 Vietti Perbacco (label) Nebbiolo (varietal) red from Piemonte.

House-made italian sausage and gnocchi a la Romana with a 2008 Argiano (label) Rosso Toscano (varietal). This was a BIG red wine that went so well with what was my favourite of the four delicious tasting courses. As Terra does not eat pork, I gladly returned the food swap favour. These tomatoes were cooked, so I did not pass those on.

Giovane has become one of my favourite new places in the city. The service is fantastic , the food and wine bar none, and it’s just a good place to be. (And on top of that, there’s a real meal deal gelateria (Bella Gelateria – 1001 West Cordova Street) a couple doors down the hotel block. We went there for for dessert the next day after lunch. I had a to die for pomegranate sorbetto.)

I just downloaded CollageIt – it is awesome.

This is a great team building activity, I highly recommend it for a corporate or social event. Let me know if you want the booking info.

Thanks, Katherine and Jill for an amazing evening for our team!