Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lake and Land Fun with Vistas in New Hampshire


It may be a small state, but New Hampshire has 373 lakes - more than one for every day of the year! Head for Squam Lake or hike up Rattlesnake Mountain for some breathtaking views of the lake. Hikers need not worry, there are no rattlesnakes here - just deep slithery lines embedded in the summit’s bedrock. The 35-minute ascent is so easy, young kids have no problem hopping along in sandals.
This lake has loons, so if you want to see them, take the 90-minute Squam Lakes Cruise from Holderness. The cruise boat is a cozy pontoon whose open sides allow for close viewing from all angles; plus binoculars are handed out. We spotted a mother loon gliding along with a chick on her back while hooting as dad dove for food. A naturalist from the Natural Science Centre is always on board to lead the way. Ours was Margaret, who actually comes from Saint-Jérôme. While steering the boat, she explained in lay-man’s lingo a lot about loons, and always invited us to spot them. It was exciting. Everyone felt they had just won the jackpot when they saw one. On board, we held replicas of eggs and examined facsimiles of loon bones as our guide gave us a short lesson on loons. In this very area The Loon Preservation Committee - open to the public - monitors their health and protects them. Harry Vogel, also a Canadian, is the chief biologist for this organization. “We were able to change the law. The use of led fishing tackle, and big jigs that kill these birds is now prohibited. So many end up swallowing them and die within hours.”
Squam Lake is small compared to Lake Winnipesaukee 34- kilometre length. Cruising in style on this famous lake – the third largest in New England – is the way to go.  I headed for the Ekal Activity Center in the touristy town of Meredith to hop on board a very special 7-seater boat.  Fittingly called Miss Meredith, this speed boat’s claim to fame resides in another name. It was once owned by Madame Chiang Kai Shek who summered here.  The Americans instantly took ownership of her precious vessel when the Chinese refused to side with them after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. They also booted her out of Meredith where she homed every summer. Miss Meredith smoothly made her way towards Governors Island where splendid mansions had us gushing with envy. They collectively seem to embody various lifestyles of the rich and famous. Sumptuous yachts docked beside throne-like deck chairs, and ornate facades with12-feet-tall cathedral windows looking out from on high made us feel very small. So much for Miss. Meredith!
Cottages goers and residents who live on some of the lake’s 258 islands need never worry about missing the mail - thanks to the (M/V) Sophie C. that leaves Weirs Beach weekdays and Saturdays. Since 1892, she’s been delivering mail to families who home here year-round.  Purchase your ticket at Weirs Beach; then hop on board the oldest floating post office on the continent.  You’ll see how it all happens as Sophie approaches several islands where residents wait to get the mail dropped to them on their docks.  Sophie also hands out ice cream and all kinds of snacks to everyone, including all hands on deck tourists.
The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center gives you incredible views into our world via its magical immersive exhibits. It’s just across from the loon cruise pontoon. If your feet long for land grounded in history, then tread back in time by visiting the abandoned 19th-century Canterbury  Shaker Village nearby. Guided tours every day.


                                        For information on this region, visit: www.lakesregion.org

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

EATZ ENCORE




 A Scrumptious Ready-to-Eat Feast  

Eatz Encore stunningly satisfies all your food cravings with its imitable variety of made-on-the-spot connoisseur dishes.  The minute you walk into this cozy casual place in Westmount, Quebec, the Eatz Encore effect takes over. Soon you’ll be swooning in the nicest of ways. Your mouth will be watering; you’ll start smiling, then choosing from the vast selections of food on display. Soon you’re forgetting every problem you’ve ever had, not just because of the astoundingly delicious food, but also because there’s a huge human ingredient behind Eatz Encore’s doors. Genuinely warm family folk who run the place provide a welcome dose of divine dishes that perk up an emotional blahs.




Polish-born Krystyna Konefal who owns the restaurant has a warm, generous spirit. Despite the speed at which you get the food, there’s no stress here. Sons, Chris and Patrick join their mom, adding to this remarkably relaxed atmosphere – another beautiful ingredient at Eatz Encore.


Behind the Counter Kindness, Food Prepared with Love for Heavenly Taste Enjoyment
Greeting you is a mix of aromas from the endless eye-popping display of freshly made gourmet dishes with aromas  from Italy, Mexico, the Orient, India and Poland - to name  only a few of  Krystyna’s cuisine capabilities. She’s been cooking for over 30 years, and in 2003 she opened her multi-pleasing meal haven filled with different distinct dishes. It never gets boring here. You need at least one hour to visually take in all the goodies here; plus you can sample some.



Food for Health and Happiness
Mentored by Krystyna who was born to cook.  Chefs, Shipon and Milano create Eatz Encore’s palette-pleasing plates, 35 delightful dishes for your table here. And let’s not forget about the 65 or so different ready-go take home yummies already wrapped in the lower display case. It’s a royal feast, and best of all, the food you’ll be enjoying is chemical free, and get this…gluten-free  too in many dishes and desserts - all devoid of saturated fats, grease, sugar and all the other “false food” ingredients that you find in  many traiteurs and fast food outlets. 

This is not fast food; this is fabulous superbly healthy food ready to go right to your table in the restaurant or for take-out eating. Or when at home, call in and have it delivered. Their delivery menu has over 100 classic and exotic dishes! Is it any wonder Krystyna sometimes starts cooking at 3 am to make sure all her hungry customers can get their food fast!








I’ve returned several times to eat here. I can’t gloat enough over the General Tao chicken. Spicy and sweet, the tender chicken is perfectly seasoned.  But before you dig in, why not ask Krystyna to make you up a plate of her most incredible salads or veggie creations. 



You see them all at the counter. The quinoa is amazing. Hearts of palm, Kalamata olives baby tomatoes, feta and peppers of all kinds find their home in these healthy generous servings. And don’t’ forget prices go by the pound. You’re not stuck having to order different sizes.
You must try the cabbage rolls. I love both the veggie and meat ones. I’ve also taken home her quesadillas that are packaged and ever so low in price but big on taste. How about her burritos?

I preferred the jumbo tempura shrimp to her grilled ones for taste. Speaking of which, I also love her perfectly prepared tandoori chicken and the New Zealand orange roughy (fish) covered in almond slices. The salmon is sautéed in ginger with white lemon grass for simple yet optimum flavour.  It was so tender... absolutely wonderful!  None of Eatz’s dishes is soggy, drenched in a hodgepodge of everything with complex flavours. Krystyna keeps it simple. Wine vinaigrette made my salads superb, and the dumplings I took home were as delicate in texture as was the huge 2-inch thick hamburger steak I snagged for eating later at home. It was covered in sautéed onions. Wow!

Food You Never Have to Prepare; Just Answer your Door or Sit inside
Eatz Encore is a place of international gourmet surprises and that’s what makes it so much fun to keep coming back for more. The freshly-made meal repertoire is so vast, I call it Quebec’s Disneyland of delectable dishes. Eatz Encore is a perfect name for all the things it does; you can call in and pre-order what you want (once you get to know your favourites) and you can also count on at your door delivery. You can order lots of food or go for some small specialities too.  




Eatz Encore’s delivery menu has over 100 different gourmet dishes – too exciting to mention this time, but have you ever had stuffed Portobello mushrooms, lamb riblets, Hickory meatballs or knishes that could quell a hungry grouch? How’s that for tending to all the logistics of getting food to you fast. Of course, I just love going in there to gaze at all the goodies, sitting down, getting my favourites and trying new meals too. 

By the way, don’t miss out on the brownies; they almost melt in your mouth. The sugarless apricot cranberry cookies are incredible! 

One thing for sure, you can eat your way to heaven, but you’ll never feel heavy in the belly. Thank you Krystyna for making cold winter days as warm and wonderful as the soups she makes!!!



          The website is www.eatzencore.ca
 Eatz Encore is located at 4824 Sherbrooke West
              Call (514) 482-1778


Thursday, December 28, 2017

ASHLEY’S RESTAURANT




 WORLDLY FLAVOURS IN EXQUISITE VEGETARIAN CUISINE

On August 22nd 2017, something miraculous happened in the world. Ashley’s Restaurant landed in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood. Arriving with it was Ayesha Gidwani, a remarkably gifted chef whose vegetarian cuisine is tongue wagging wonderful.  Together with owners Chantal and Sina, Ayesha created a menu that has elevated vegetarian meals into Nirvana magic. Here Asian, Indian, and a moment with Mexican flavours turn casual dining into an exciting experience of discovery.
Twenty-five divinely-inspired dishes deliciously demonstrate Ayesha’s awesome talent and instinct for ingredient combos that create the “wow” factor.

Each food-fabulous creation attests to Ayesha’s long-time love affair with cooking.
“When I was a child, I was always playing in my mom’s kitchen back in India. She was a great cook, and I watched what she did.”
 Since moving to Canada (2002) after a 14-year-stint as a Bollywood costume designer, she became Montreal’s “it” girl for vegetarian cuisine, creating veggie menus for several restaurants – her biggest coup was as Executive Chef at Cantley Suites for six years.
“I live, breathe, walk, talk and dream about what I do. I am very passionate about cooking and I do it from my soul. Here, at Ashley’s I have created vegetarian and vegan options using flavour fusions from Asia, India and beyond.”


Novice Designer Makes a Notable Impression








The Zen appeal also resonates in Ashley’s décor. Sina was responsible for its interior design.  It's hard to believe that Ashley’s was his first design project; it’s nothing short of genius. The result is outstanding, even daring. “I wanted to create a cozy, authentic place using the old and new,” said Sina.  Seemingly incongruous elements – both organic and modern, blend beautifully. Its visual aesthetic conveys an eternal feeling of serenity.









 
Natural wood restfully warms the restaurant in every space: the walls, benches and irregular shaped tables. Leather, brick, ceramic facades, even a peek-a-boo tall black column distinctly enhance the dining areas. Highlighted by top hanging lighting, Ashley’s embodies fluidity in aesthetic appeal.
Sina went all out in the loo rooms. They’re outrageously whimsical and colourful.
             Take a peek.         

Menu Health in Exotic Ingredients






Never mind that the dishes come with some pretty funny names: Avo’Cuddle toast, Umami Burger, the Bodhi Bowl or Jungli Yogi Bowl, the irony is palpably pleasing. Each wondrous dish is composed of nature’s most coveted flavours and ingredients. Everything is naturally grown, devoid of sugar (natural maple syrup is used) and almost zero % gluten free. Common to almost every plate is the extraordinary variety of different foods that go into each dish. I counted an average of 20 different ingredients for each, including a maze of veggies, grains, mysterious Asian and Indian roots, peppers, berries, seeds, noodles and more. One of Ayesha’s signature sensations resides not just in the presentation factor but the many hidden layers of differing foods that add never-ending surprise to the eating experience of that particular dish. Herbs and one-of-a-kind Asian dressings – served on the side are blended to perfection; the taste is exquisite, the texture sometimes crunchy, such as in the three different chef-inspired macro bowls. Each instantly brings a wealth of vitality and exoticism to the name, ‘salad’. Sensually addictive and creamy gorgeous both in taste and colour is the main dish, “From Berma with Love”. One of four favorites and an Ashley creation, this meal consists of coconut spiced lentil curry on konjac noodles, hash browns, roasted chick pea tofu, onions, roasted chilli, garlic oil, smoked sweet potatoes, coriander and lemon juice. This dish is heavenly. If you could taste love, this is it.


Eating Splendidly
My companion and I started with two salad dishes. I had the Urban Hippie Bowl whose 20 ingredients included purple kale, pilaf quinoa with a fig, yellow beets, kombucha dressing, roasted tumeric papaya, faro salad, roasted chickpeas, apples crisps a smattering of nuts and pumpkin seeds and more – topped by a big orange dollop of harissa hummus at the centre of it all. How’s that for healthy!




My companion dove into the Jungli Yogi Bowl – a sure bet for healthy eating accented with Greek, Mexican touches: Kalamata olives, cilantro lime dressing, mango house chutney, and heaps of kidney beans with alfalfa sprouts, spelt salad and cauliflower rice.


What’s great about this place is vegetarians and vegans can dine together since options are always there for family members to choose. As a peanut-free establishment, 85% of the ingredients are also organic including the sunflower and olive oil in the dishes.



That could account for the totally non-greasy pan-fried leek and vegetable dumplings we ordered for starters. I loved the house tamari and sesame sauce. We gobbled up the four on the plate as fast as we munched away in surely the most extraordinary side dish I have ever tasted: Mumbai Bhel. 


Superb and inspired by Goddess Ayesha, this wonderful dish consists of the perfect blend of puffed rice, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, sprouted mung beans, chick pea crisps flavoured in tamarind and coriander chutney.
There is nowhere else in Montreal to find such astounding dishes that are light yet filling and oh so healthy.



Ashley's is Awesome
I could go on and on about other dishes I have eaten here; suffice it to say Ashley always has healthy surprises. Whether you’re from Montreal or Timbuktu, you must eat here. How many times can you tell someone, you just tasted gluten-free fava bean crust and you really really liked it? Where else can you boast about biting into a chocolate beet brownie with organic chocolate truffle and roasted hazelnuts? 






                                         

By the way, did I mention there’s a class-A wine list and bar?
Menu prices are low. That’s another plus why the entire family can enjoy this place, and there are weekend brunches. 




Ashley’s is located at 5942 Sherbrooke ouest, Montreal, H4A 1X7.
Call (514) 369-7566.




Monday, December 11, 2017

BALI (SMCQ) Clanging that went on too long



Four works featuring the music of Bali putting Jose Evangelista into new territory as a composer in the Asian mode was on the program this December 7th evening.

The concert was prefaced with a far too-long explanation of the Gamelon (orchestra) by Pierre Paré-Blais who also plays the instruments that we saw on stage at Montreal’s Pierre Péladeau Centre. He said the music is based on a single melody flushed by the other clanging instruments that seem to swirl around it faster and faster. Lovely bright red and gold instruments glittered the stage -- strange looking musical percussive instruments ranging from gong keybar to martenot – the latter sounding like a Wurlitzer and synchronizer. An interesting instrument that should be heard far more than it is.

Although the musicians were impeccable in timing and speed, after a while the pieces sounded like a collective clanging cacophony that sadly was not as colourful as the appearance of the instruments themselves. The one musician who held our attention with his passionate playing of  a drum-like instrument was I Dewa Made Suparta. He is director of the entire orchestra.



The performance needed costumes and showmanship. The three dancers save, for one who looked like a lost misfit towering awkwardly over the others who were Asian -- did not help this dance ensemble in look; nor did this trio inspire us, but the two other dancers would have -- without the gawky one. She looked about as Balinese as a giraffe trying to hide among cats. I did not feel transported to Bali during this concert. Though it was lackluster, the instrument playing was expert indeed.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

DO NOT STAY AT MYRTO HOTEL IN ATHENS



Nightmare hotel reserved through Booking.com.

I bought through Booking.com a two- night stay at Myrto Hotel (note that sometimes it’s called Myrtos) God forbid there might be two of these hellish hotels.

Judging by the photo of the room on Booking.com, I was supposed to get a double size budget one, I thought things would be okay.

Never judge a hotel by its Booking.com cover photo - or at least in this case. The room was so tiny, my rather small suitcase was not able to fit in it. The bed was so small with no room to get out of it except if you wanted to bang your legs against the side wall.  

There was no space at its end, or sides or head. There was just a shelf  at its end with a small noisy fridge on it; no place to put your clothes; no place to move to get into the bed or out of it. And by the way no window as it shows in the photo. No side table except a tiny gnome size-one -- not big enough to put my small laptop on. The plug sparked and damaged my mouse.  There was no hot water except if I wanted to wait an hour before the boiler would work to make it hot. That’s what the kids downstairs running the hotel told me. Now these kids were nice and tried to help as much as possible, but how do you put a broken hotel back together?

These downstairs folks were young, very nice but there was no manager on site. Oh by the way, the elevator sounded like an airplane about to take off. It was so loud and groaning all night long I could not sleep at all.

Worse still, when I asked to change rooms there was no manager around at all or ever.

Breakfast on Booking.com looks yummy. Well, old cornflakes cold coffee and sticky white yogurt was there. I had placed my coffee cup on the wood table whose top instantly toppled, flipping sideways into a 90- degree angle, thereby spilling my stale coffee with the cup landing on the floor. This was becoming the Twilight Zone. I felt unsafe.

 I left the hotel at 1 am the second night and slept at the airport to catch my 7:30 morning flight back home

I now know why the Russian owners were never in sight. They were back home drinking vodka no doubt and laughing all the way to the bank while we poor helpless Myrtos Hotel victims were feeling like we had landed in a hovel of horrors. No one can walk in off the street and book a room at this hotel. You have to go through Booking.com.  get the money before they see it is their modus operandi.

Shame on Booking .com for not investigating this hotel and using false photos to get clients to book at this shabby hotel – one  that I would not even put Norman Bates in!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

UNE JEUNE FEMME (Directed by Léonor Serraille) *





Laetitia Dosch stars as a young woman who has been jilted by her photographer boyfriend. She lives in Paris, and hates it. She mooches off others, even gets a job as a nanny which doesn't work out for the mother in the end. She drifts but finally lands a job in a lady’s undergarment and nightwear high end store. She gets pregnant by her ex-boyfriend but refuses to take him back. Instead, she ends up with a store worker who seems like a better man than the crud she had as a boyfriend. Good acting can’t save this first feature film by the director whose unoriginal plot downplays the ugly truth about being lost and marginalized in a society that does not care. Screened at Montréal’s  2017 Cinemania Festival.   



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE HIDDEN RIVER (Jean-Francois Lesage) bomb







The loon calls at the end of this documentary were the only moving effect in this pretentious film where different groups of friends and family gather at different spots on a lovely river that seems to symbolize life’s flowing currents. There is a group of women who talk about their feelings of motherhood; two men who contemplate depression and death, young boys jumping in the river, one fly fisherwoman, a couple – she loves him; he is more into other things.
 This film is so ridiculously unrealistic. Do people in nature truly wax philosophical for 20 minutes with each other. Not once, did anyone ask: “So how are you? What’s happening in your life? Peopledo not listen to head speak about life in such surroundings, other than in a life coaching class or in a university
    lecture in a philosophy class with a bad professor.

                                                 Screened at RIDM, 2017.