Niagara Mini-Vacation, April 2011 - Part 2.

This is part of a 3-post series on our trip to Niagara last month. Here's part 1.

John and I knew we wanted to stay between the Falls and Niagara on the Lake, a cute town on Lake Ontario. Our hotel was the Hilton Garden Inn at Niagara on the Lake. I did a lot of searching around for B&Bs (there are literally dozens in the town and surrounding area) and other hotels, and we were glad to have chosen the Hilton Garden Inn. The dates of the vacation were strategic; we knew it would be either the last week of April or the first week of May. In order to be budget conscious, we wanted to go during the week, instead of the weekend, and to avoid May because it's the official start of tourist season. The prices for hotels and a lot of other things increase that week, and the same hotel room we had would have been $50 more per night after May 1st!
The room was your standard hotel room, and we enjoyed the convenience of the hotel's location. It was 16 minutes from the falls, easily accessed from the highway, and about 10 minutes from downtown NOTL, and all the wineries that surround it. I'll cover the wineries we tried in the next post, but seriously, it seemed like every road had a sign for at least 4-5 different wineries. We also picked up a pretty helpful map of NOTL and the area at the hotel.

Here are some pics of the town itself.

Lots of pretty stores and restaurants.

That's the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel and Lounge.

We had some time before our dinner reservation so we looked around for a bar and had a drink at Corks. They had a nice selection of beers on tap, including some local ones, and a lengthy wine list, featuring wines from the region. I would have been happy to eat dinner there. It seemed like there were a lot of options, if our original pick for dinner had fallen through.

I spent some time looking through restaurant reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor for a dinner place, and even though it had mixed reviews, we settled on the Olde Angel Inn - and I'm glad we did.

They had tons of great dinner choices, especially for a pescatarian like myself. The veggie options included broccoli/cheese quiche, and vegetable curry. Since I'm still eating fish, I went with the fish and chips, and I wasn't disappointed.

John had steak and onion pie (with puff pastry on top - mmmm), and he liked it pretty well.

One of the things I really liked about the Angel Inn was that the bar was full of people having a great time watching the hockey game, but we were able to sit in an adjacent room that still felt lively but was quiet enough to talk. It's sort of a pet peeve of mine: I HATE being the only people in a restaurant, but I also don't like it when it's so noisy that I can't have a conversation. This place had a nice balance, and the food came out quickly.

(That's what she said.)

One of several pictures that I thought looked like an album cover. Maybe this one is for folk music?

After dinner, John pointed out that we were only a couple of blocks from the lake, and that it'd be nice to take a walk there.

The shoreline there is beautiful. You can see one of the historic forts near by (this one is Fort George, I think? But maybe not?).

If you squint, you can see that tiny grey outline on the horizon - it's Toronto. I screwed with the lighting in this photo to make the city more visible.

Gorgeous biking/walking path.

Another album cover shot.

Niagara Mini-Vacation, April 2011 - Part 1.

By the time you're reading this, John and I will be taking our comprehensive exams. They start May 9th and go until about June 6th. We get 4 weeks to answer 3 questions, 20+ pages each. It's daunting, but we're both trying to stay positive. It will be hard, but we can do it. We'll be busy, but not insane.
(I've written several blog posts in advance, so the thrilling one-post-per-week pace won't change during May).

John in the Falls parking lot. Check out the hotels up on the ridge. Niagara Falls-the-town is sort of like Vegas, but you know, tackier.

Several friends of mine have had babies in the last year or two, and so I've learned about the concept of a "baby-moon." It's what you do while you're pregnant to make the most of your just-the-two-of-us time before the baby comes along and your lives change so drastically. John and I decided that this would be a good time to have a "comps-moon" or a pre-comps vacation. Not that babies and comps are similar, but since there were only two weeks between finals and comps, we wanted to make the most of that time, get out of town for a couple days, and see some sights.
One of the great things about London is its proximity to touristy places, even though the city itself isn't really one of them (which is fine with us). Since it's too cold to go to the beach, we decided to try the Niagara region. Besides the falls, the area has a variety of wineries and cool places to visit. I'll break the Niagara posts up into three, since there were two days and a lot of pictures. Here goes #1!

Niagara Falls

The beautiful Falls Welcome Center.

The Ontario locals recommended seeing the falls, but that we would otherwise want to stay away from Niagara Falls itself. It's very touristy, sort of like Vegas, but really more like Branson, MO. Still, they've really spent a lot of money making the falls an easy, lovely, place to visit.

We started at the Falls Welcome Center, where John pretended to be a lookout. They have a few attractions there, like Niagara's Fury, and the Journey Behind the Falls. We opted to do the latter, since it wouldn't involve any motion sickness for me.

The Journey Behind the Falls is pretty simple - you get a poncho, and they take you down an elevator to some tunnels behind the falls, and you can walk around and look out.

The tunnels were mostly built in the 1930s, and I had the sensation while we were descending that the whole operation got more and more low-tech the lower we went under ground. The tunnels open up to portals where you can see the water rushing around. It doesn't seem like a water fall because of how the water sprays every where. It looks like it's spraying from all directions.

After 10 minutes walking around the tunnels, we went out to the special, Behind the Falls observation deck.

The lower level of the deck was so wet that I put the camera away. I was grateful for the poncho at that point, since we were able to walk right up to the falls, and they sprayed constantly. The temperature was also a solid 10-15 degrees F below what hit had been above ground, away from the falls, so we pulled our arms inside the ponchos for warmth.
Our feeling about the Behind the Falls trip was that it was fun and worth doing once, but I wouldn't pay to do it again. It's fun to see the falls from above, too, and I'm glad we went there.

After we'd had enough time up close with the falls, we headed back above ground to take more photos and walk around. The weather was supposed to thunderstorm, but we were lucky and caught the warm, sunny front before the storm.

Horseshoe Falls, a.k.a, the Canadian side.

The falls are pretty windy.

Falls come from Lake Erie, go past Niagara, down the Niagara River, and into Lake Ontario. They recede every year, and apparently they'll recede into Lake Erie eventually and disappear.

Honeymoon Bridge.

Easter Brunch for Dinner: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

A few weeks ago John and I had a small Easter potluck with some friends. He and I made two quiches (one of which you can find here - I LOVE this recipe), since pie crust comes in 2-packs, and I just don't bother to make my own. Other people brought mimosas, fruit salad, and a hash brown casserole (yum! I ate so much of it).

And we also made dessert. This is Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.

Ugh. This cake. It's unbelievably good. Let me give you the run down: sour-cream-chocolate cake, with cream-cheese-peanut-butter frosting, layered between the cakes and the outside. Also, check out that fabulous frosting job John did. That's right - John iced this cake! And I think he's pretty good at it.

Still, the thing that takes this cake from a good idea to unbelievable is the peanut butter-chocolate glaze.

Full disclosure: that's only half a cake! We ate the first half at the party, and I put the other half back in the fridge for leftovers. As much as I would have loved to just eat the entire thing myself, we knew we had to get rid of it. So John brought the cake to the other TAs he had to grade tests with, and we passed off the rest to other friends. It's so rich that after a pretty thin piece my stomach said, "that was amazing, but please stop." Still, I'm so glad we made it! It's heaven for someone who loves the peanut-butter-chocolate combination like me. It's a little time intensive, but so are most cakes like this. Definitely worth having for a party, and dangerous without one.

Going to the Rock

A few weeks ago John and I went to a concert put on by the Karen Schuessler Singers that featured some music from Newfoundland, called "Going to the Rock." People here talk about the maritime provinces with a sense of nostalgia and love that reminds me of how American southerners talk about their states. It's its own little region, part of Canada, and yet culturally distinct. I had some desire to travel to Newfoundland before the concert, and afterward, I obviously wanted to go immediately. It seems like it would be sort of like visiting the U. K., but marginally easier to get to.

A couple I know both sing in the KSSingers, and the rector at my church, Don Ford, a native Newfoundlander, told stories about the province in between pieces. They also had an amazing fiddle player, Jennie Bice, and a guitarist, Greig Cairns, who played with the choir and some solo numbers. Jennie's playing was so outstanding, we really felt like we got our money's worth out of the tickets just from the pieces she played. I tried to find a youtube video of her really playing the crap out of some difficult passage work, but this video is the best I could find.

It didn't take long for us to realize that everyone in the audience seemed to know a lot more about Newfoundland than we did. But part of Don's storytelling included a history of Newfoundland, beginning with the vikings, through the colonial period, and past 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador became part of Canada. He also entertained us with stories of being a young church intern there just after his ordination, and the bizarre decisions he had to make when the other 10 rectors in the area left him in charge and went on vacation. His final few stories were about the strength of the people of Newfoundland, living in harsh conditions, but maintaining good humor about it and a sense of community.

After the choir's opening set included the pieces they're going to perform on their tour there this summer, they moved into songs about Newfoundland and/or arrangements of well-known (though not to us) folk songs from that area.

The only downside to the concert was that they clearly way oversold the tickets. We were squished in the last pew in the balcony of the church where it took place. At intermission, an older guy in the same pew made what I feel was an offensive joke about me sitting in his lap for the second half, and then demanded that I switch seats with him so he could sit in the aisle and have more leg room (I'm sure it was better for him, but seriously, you can ask me instead of just telling me. End of rant.).
Still, the unpleasantness of the seating was overshadowed by how much we enjoyed the music. One of our favorites was "Sarah" (here's a link to a youtube solo version of the song), about a guy trying to get his girlfriend to sneak out with him at night.

The most memorable song they did was "I's the B'y." This video is the closest version I could find, though I think there are probably hundreds of versions. Jennie explained that it's a pub favorite and that it was necessary for everyone to sing along. The way she set it up, we thought she would sing a verse and have us imitate her so we could learn the tune. But after Jennie and the choir set up the first verse, the entire audience burst into song and knew exactly what was going on. John and I looked at each other like, "what just happened?". By the middle of the second verse we were singing along. It was a great way to end the concert, which was capped off with everyone singing the "Ode to Newfoundland." Again it seemed like everyone knew that one but us.

Now I'm hoping for a conference I can apply to in the maritimes so that I can get Western to pay for me to go out there!


The Goblet of Knowledge

One of the things that struck me about Western when first arrived was the bars on campus. IU had a strict "dry campus" policy (in quotation marks for a reason), but Western has The Spoke, that's known for having an undergrad crowd, and the Grad Club, which, as its name implies, is for graduate students. The Grad club allows undergrads or whoever to eat and drink there, but grads get a discount on food, and they have a sign that tells undergrads to behave themselves and not pester their TAs while inside.

When you graduate, the Grad Club gives you a free beer (can a Westerner confirm this for me?) in what they call the Goblet of Knowledge, a fancy goblet that they keep on display behind the bar. This week, my friend Emilie defended for her master's degree in music theory, so after our students' final on Thursday, we went to the Grad Club for her drink from The Goblet.

Congrats, Emilie! She's moving on to a degree for the more socially adjusted and going to law school at the University of Toronto.

This week in food, I only have a couple of things to show you. One night this week we repeated the delicious fish tacos from a couple months ago. The other two dishes we made were both real winners.

First, Enormous Salad with curried cashews, pears, and grapes with a dijon dressing.

Here's the recipe. We were both really happy with it, but we'll probably be moving on to a new salad-of-the-week for next week. The ripe pear was a really interesting flavor with the curried cashews, and the nuts were also prepared with butter and brown sugar. I don't really know how that could have turned out badly. The original recipe also calls for a couple strips of bacon, fried and crumbled. I felt like it would have been a nice addition, but the salad works fine without it.

Next up: Black Beans and Quinoa with Chipotle Raspberry Sauce, from the Post Punk Kitchen.

Oh. mah. gawd, this is good. I've never had anything quite like it. The adobo from the chipotles and the raspberries go incredibly well together, and I would never have thought to combine them. The almonds add a little crunch, and the broccoli makes it a really complete meal, nutritionally. I will definitely make this again!

This weekend we have some potluck plans for Easter, so I'll have pictures of that to come. Have a great weekend!


Grills Gone Wild

Last week I didn't mention that John and I bought a grill from our friend Emilie.

And it. is. awesome.

We had little charcoal grill, but we haven't used it much. The new-to-us grill is gas, and we've used it almost every day since we got it.

Here are some of the results.
Portobello burgers with grilled sweet potatoes (based on this preparation), asparagus, and zucchini.

The mushroom burgers were marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic. We topped them with goat cheese and lettuce. Amazing!

Next up: Asian-style Grilled Tofu with an enormous salad.

We grilled these cuts of tofu on foil so that they didn't stick to the grill and then go up in flames. They stuck a little bit when the marinade caramelized (it was made of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and lime juice), but they came up ok. The marinade was delicious, if a little higher in sodium than I prefer. I had one of the leftover slices on a hamburger bun for lunch the next day. They're pretty tasty.

By the end of the week we were ready for something non-grilled, so we made pizza with sauce I read about on Dave and Carla's food blog.

This recipe makes a ton of sauce, so we've made several versions of the same pizza over the past few days: zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, and goat cheese with some fresh herbs. It might be my new favorite combination of toppings. Apparently the sauce is a copy cat from a pizza place called Palermo's (I'm guessing that's the right place, but if it's not, let me know!). It's a sweet, flavorful sauce, and I'm glad we have so much of it. We even froze some to use again, probably next month during our comps.

And finally, totally unrelated to grilling and pizza, I saw a blog post this week (similar to this one) about torching some bananas with sugar on them as an oatmeal topping that mimics creme brulee. Since John and I have a torch, I felt like I had to try it.

It doesn't involve the grill, but it does require a flame.

They were a little too sweet for my taste, but, what can I say? I can't resist the chance to light my breakfast on fire.

In other news, the weather felt a lot more like spring this week. The purple wildflowers are coming up in our neighbors' yard.

You can see downtown just behind those trees.

Compare with this somewhat similar angle.

Things really have improved.

Though it snowed like crazy for a couple hours today, it didn't stick. Maybe that's how we can tell it's really spring?