Enjoy the finer things in life

bottle of wine and wilton cheeseI’ve come to terms with certain truths in my life. I know I will never be rich. I’ll never own a Coach purse, have a designer kitchen, or set foot in a Ferrari or Porsche, let alone own one.

But when it comes to certain necessities, I am unwavering in my devotion to the finer things of life. Good bread, wine and cheese are three staples I won’t skimp on.

Here is a list of my favourite finer things:

  • Best bread: Pan Chancho bakery in Kingston. I had two colleagues from TD Bank in Toronto who insisted on coming to Kingston every year for meetings just so they could stock up on loaves of bread to take home on the train. Their olive bread is addictive.
  • Best ice cream: Kawartha Dairy wins by two scoops every time. I discovered Kawartha Dairy thirty years ago on weekend trips to Minden, the Kawarthas and Bancroft to friends’ cottages. Luckily you can get their rich and creamy ice cream everywhere now, even Costco.
  • Best cheese: Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Wilton Cheese Factory in Wilton is the best little cheese factory in eastern Ontario. Sure, there may be good fancy artisanal cheese places out there, but you won’t find better cheese at a reasonable price. People drive for miles for their cheese curds.
  • Best honey: This one has to bee my bestie Elaine Peterson’s Bee Happy Honey. You can buy Elaine’s honey at the Memorial Centre Farmer’s Market in Kingston on Sundays and other local markets
  • Best butter tarts: Mrs. Garrett’s of Garrett’s Meat Shop in Inverary—gooey, rich, huge and delicious! Don’t forget to pick up a pumpkin pie for a second dessert while you’re there.
  • Best coffee: Cooke’s Find Foods coffee. Get it in Kingston and Picton–guaranteed to perk you up.
  • Best wine: So many wines, so little time. Since I’m no connoisseur, and still have to buy wine on a budget, I won’t even attempt to try to list my favourites, but the amazing array of Ontario wines from the County and Niagara will keep us all happy for a very long time. I will give a shout out to my newest local winery, Scheuermann Winery in Westport. Leslie and I visited it last fall and enjoyed a bottle of their Romatique. Worth the drive to Westport.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy the finer things in life. What’s one of your favourite finer things? Leave a comment.

Have a Zootastic experience

author at zoo entranceOn road trips, no matter how long the drive, we try to break up the trip by stopping somewhere interesting for a couple of hours. Recently, on our way home from South Carolina, we stopped at Zootastic Park near Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

We love small zoos. You can get up close to the animals, the exhibits are closer together and you actually get to meet and talk to the zoo staff who are usually friendly and knowledgeable.

As soon as we arrived at Zootastic Park, we knew we had found a gem. As I was walking to the bathroom, one of the zoo staff passed me with a baby wolf in his arms. Next door, there was a birthday party in full swing with lemurs leaping around the room.

Parrots and peacocks greeted you at the entrance, and you could buy carrots and grains to feed the animals. Dave and I have been up close to giraffes in Africa, but we have never fed one before.

In the big cats area, I made a new enemy. Their lynx did not like me…one bit. Every time I talked to him he would growl and look at me menacingly with his luminous yellow eyes. It was very eerie. I’ve never seen an animal react like that at a zoo before, probably because you don’t get the opportunity to get so close to them.

Girl with parrot

The owner was an interesting guy. He had been in the animal trade for more than 30 years, worked on Wild Kingdom (google it kids), lived in South Africa, and was now making a go of this little zoo in North Carolina.

They even had an old fashioned carousel for the little ones. The owner told us he traded it for a camel, straight up.

Here are some of our favourite “little” zoos to visit this summer:

  • Jungle Cat World, in Orono, east of Toronto
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg (50% admission for Moms on Mother’s Day!)
  • Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington—free 364 days of the year
  • Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, 45 minutes outside of Halifax where you can say hi to Shubenacadie Sam, their resident groundhog. We’ve visited Wiarton Willie in Wiarton too–the only North American groundhog we haven’t paid a visit to yet is Punxsutawney Phil.

I haven’t been there, but my friend Mary Beth tells me the zoo in Syracuse is good too. I was sad to find out one of our favourites, Reptile World in Drumheller, Alberta closed. The owner there loved snakes but was terrified of cattle, which we found hilarious considering he lived in Alberta.

Girl feeding giraffe

Many zoos offer summer camp programs for kids—what an awesome summer experience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a zootastic experience with the whole family. Go ape for the apes, wild for the big cats and batty for the bats.

Girls on a carousel

Lucky Charms–because they’re magically delicious

Box of Lucky CharmsEd. note: For your reading pleasure, read this week’s post with an Irish accent.

Ah, St. Paddy’s Day. The day when green beer and green blood flows through our veins like the River Liffey.

This year, we’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the wee town of Westport, Ontario. Dave will be piping in the parade, then we’ll be off to hear Turpin’s Tail at the Cove. It should be a fine night, to be sure.

While there are many wonderful things about the day of green, one of the most brilliant is eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. What is so special about me Lucky Charms?

Well, for starters, they ARE magically delicious (the best marketing slogan of all time, along with “You’re always after me lucky charms!”)

Second, where else can you eat a rainbow that is a marshmallow? What a crack way to start your day.

And third, each charm has magic powers.

I also like how the colour of the milk turns green at the end of the bowl.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take this quick quiz on all things Irish, including our favourite breakfast cereal and have a marvellous St. Paddy’s Day.

  1. Which province in Canada recognizes St. Paddy’s Day as an official holiday?
  2. Name four of the shapes in a box of Lucky Charms.
  3. Which Canadian city flag has a shamrock on it?
  4. What is the name of the mascot in Lucky Charms?
  5. Beoir is the Irish Gaelic word for what?
  6. In what year did General Mills start making Lucky Charms?
  7. True of False: St. Paddy’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival?
  8. How many calories in bowl of Lucky Charms (3/4 cup)?
  9. True or False: Lucky Charms was the first cereal to include marshmallows in the recipe.
  10. Each marshmallow charm represents a different power. What power does the blue moon represent?
  11. BONUS question: There is also a Westport in Ireland too. Which county is it in?

May the luck of the Irish be with you this day and all days forward. (Quiz answers appear below).

green milk in bowl of lucky charms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quiz answers:

  1. Newfoundland and Labrador
  2. Any four of hearts, stars, rainbows, horseshoes, clovers, blue moons, hourglass, red balloons
  3. The Montreal city flag includes a shamrock in its lower right-hand corner
  4. Lucky the Leprechaun
  5. Beer
  6. 1962
  7. True
  8. 110
  9. True
  10. The power of invisibility
  11. BONUS ANSWER: County Mayo

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate

sign that says you can't buy happiness but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thingI’ve discovered a new favourite haunt in Kingston, Cacao 70 on King Street. This popular chocolateatery franchise has several locations in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and opened a restaurant in Kingston last summer.

Cacao bills itself as a unique place to drop by after a hectic day at work or school and relax and share a moment with friends. In addition to its heavenly decadent chocolate menu, it serves sandwiches, salads and boasts a great brunch menu.

Cacao 70 didn’t disappoint.

The minute you walk in the door, you know you’ve entered chocolate heaven. The melding smells of sweet milk and dark chocolate stick to your nostrils and you immediately forget about lunch. Just bring on the dark stuff.

I’ve been to Cacao two times in the last two months, once with my girlfriend Elaine for her birthday, and once with the girls. Elaine and I ordered sandwiches. My chicken salad sandwich was one of the best sandwiches I ever had. Cacao makes their sandwiches on thick, toasted delicious homemade bread. The chicken had an amazing mix of flavours.

chocolate wafflesWe made sure we had room left to split a chocolate birthday fondue. Cacao’s fondues come with fresh fruit, waffle squares and brownie chunks for dipping. One piece of advice: don’t overdip! While it looks like you have this huge bowl of chocolate, it’s really a half-bowl, but in the end we discovered it was the perfect amount as we mopped up the remaining drops of chocolate with our fruit.

The second time I went to Cacao, I took the girls after we packed hampers for the Salvation Army before Christmas for a special Mommy daughter lunch. This time I had a chocolate strawberry crepe. Grace went for it, ordering two chocolate dishes, the chocolate waffles with whipped cream and a chocolate fondue. Everything was decadent.

kids eating chocolate treatsI’m already planning my third trip. Maybe this time I’ll try the chocolate banana pizza, a volcano ice cream cup or a vintage hot chocolate. Oh, the choices.

This week’s #HappyAct is to indulge in a chocolate fantasy meal. Because as the sign says, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thing.”

Ed. note: I know writing this at the beginning of January may seem cruel for those of you who hope to lose weight in 2017. I’ve got the perfect solution. Use your chocolate extravaganza experience as an incentive and reward. Stick to your weight loss regime. When you successfully meet your first goal, whether it’s a month of healthy eating, or your first few pounds off, treat yourself to a Cacao dish!

Friends eating chocolate fondue

chocolate crepes

Play tourist in your own town

Newspaper clipping of huge fish caughtOne of the things I love about living in Eastern Ontario is how easy it is to play tourist in your own town.

Yesterday, we took Clare and her friends to Eastern Ontario’s newest tourist attraction—The Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing in Brockville. This was probably one of the most interactive, engaging tourist attractions I’ve visited and it was a definite hit with all ages.

Here’s our top 10 list of favourite things we did during our three-hour visit.

  1. Getting our picture taken with a huge mackerel and otter
  2. Broadcasting the weather live on Aquatarium News Network
  3. Rowing a skull in a virtual race
  4. Watching the otters at feeding time
  5. Racing sailboats in the wind tunnel
  6. Doing a ropes course of barrels, masts and planks
  7. Learning about water and how locks work
  8. Gazing at fish through portholes and glass tunnels
  9. Touching starfish and crabs in the touch tank
  10. Discovering the secret passage in the captain’s lounge

Sound like fun? Aye captain. This week’s #HappyAct is to play tourist in your own town this month.

Kingston friends: Next weekend, there’s three premier events you won’t want to miss in our own backyard—the Tall Ships are sailing into Brockville, the 180th Kingston Fall Fair takes over the Memorial grounds, and the North American police equestrian championships are taking place at Kingston Penitentiary with proceeds to United Way.

Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing

Girls looking at fish from a porthole

Fall Fan Fair

Girls from 4H club

Grace and her 4H friends in the pens before the goat show

Demolition derbys, horse pulls, rides and greasy food. You know it’s fall in Ontario when the fall fair rolls into town.

Yesterday, we spent the day at the Coe Hill Fair, just south of Bancroft. Grace is a member of the Napanee 4H Goat Club and she was showing her goat, Cloud in the goat show.

The Coe Hill Fair was founded in 1882. Before automobiles, a special train came from Trenton to bring exhibitors and fair goers to the fairgrounds. Today, the Coe Hill train station sits on the fairgrounds.

You never know what you will find or who you will meet at a fall fair. As soon as we walked into the fairgrounds, we met friends Reg and Barb Watson. Reg regularly shows his poultry in the fairs north of Kingston. We watched the poultry judge lift each chicken out of its cage, feel its neck and feathers and measure its wingspan. Reg took first prize for his Silver Duck Wing and Rhode Island Red.

Pot bellied pig

Leeloo the pig, follow him on Facebook

Walking towards the goat pens, we came across Leeloo the potbellied pig. Leeloo is a local celebrity with his own Facebook page along with pigmates Sparky and Eli. Sparky is the TELUS pig you see in commercials. Eli became famous when his owner adopted him and started an animal rescue facility outside of Guelph. Dave knew about Leeloo, Sparky and Eli after hearing an interview about them on the CBC.

After filling up on sausages (sorry Leeloo!), roast beef on a bun and french fries, we headed over to the goat show ring. The judge had just flown in the night before from Ohio. This guy knew his goats.

While judging the milkers, at one point he said, “This goat has a good mammory system, well attached with lateral support.” I asked Dave if I had a good mammory system, well attached with lateral support. He didn’t answer me.

We were the only spectators in the stands for most of the show. You should have seen us do the wave.

Husband and wife in stands at the goat show

Dave and I just before we did the wave at the goat show

 

In the end, Grace took second prize for showmanship and a bunch of fourth place finishes in the confirmation judging, which is more about the size and shape of the goat.

We toured the exhibit barns of quilts, flower arrangements, photography exhibits and all the usual homemade delectables of pies, jams and vegetables. We listened to live music in the grandstand and watched the horse and cow shows. We barely saw Clare who spent the entire day riding the carnival rides.

It was a good day.

Silkie chickens

Beautiful silkies in the poultry barn

This week’s #HappyAct is to take in a fall fair. Here are some upcoming fall fairs in Ontario. You can find a full listing here.

  • Centreville Fair, Sep 2-3
  • Georgetown, Sep 9-10
  • Kingston, Sep 15-18
  • Norwood Fall Fair, Oct 8-10th—I haven’t been to this one, but our friend Keith tells us it’s the best little fair in Ontario
  • And the granddaddy of them all, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Nov 4-13. Grace will be going to the Royal this year, showing her goat Cloud on the Sunday.

Imagine your dream home

Girl looking up lakeThere’s a vacant lot up the road. It faces west, has a clearing with a charming apple tree and is surrounded by beautiful pines. It would be the perfect spot to build your dream home.

We’ve never built before and probably never will, but it’s fun to imagine…

…a quaint Cape Cod style house with a large wrap-around deck with a screened in porch to enjoy bug-free summer nights…

…beautiful English style perennial gardens, a hot tub on the back deck and a swim-up bar at the lake…

…a games room with a pool table, ping pong table, air hockey and shuffleboard…

…two bathrooms, and a bedroom with a walk-in closet…

I think that’s reasonable, don’t you? Grace on the other hand has a different dream: to build a tiny house that she’d leave on our property, but that would be on wheels so she could move if she got tired of us (our kids clearly watch too much HGTV). Clare’s dream home would have a hockey rink.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine my dream home. I’ve found it. There’s a cottage on Sydenham Lake that is absolutely stunning. I’d be happy to live in their garage.

cottage on lake

My dream house on Sydenham Lake

This week’s #HappyAct is to imagine your dream home. What would yours look like? Leave a comment, and have fun dreaming.