Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Heron Restaurant at The Wakefield Mill

I don’t write about restaurants very often, but I was recently invited back to the Heron Restaurant at the Wakefield Mill for dinner, and was so blown away by the attention to detail that I thought it would only be fair to share it here with the rest of you lovers of food and great service.

If you haven’t yet visited Wakefield, you’re missing out on a little jewel of a town close enough to Ottawa for an afternoon trip, and far enough away that it truly feels like a vacation.  Wakefield is great for long walks, through the hills and by the water, and what’s great about long walks is the appetite they sometimes build up.  Enter the Wakefield Mill.

Image: Tripadvisor
 Upon arriving, my date and I were promptly seated at a lovely little table near the window, overlooking the waterfall.  You really can’t beat the ambiance of a room made up of windows.

And the duck confit I had there for lunch a few weeks ago was absolutely unforgettable...

Our dinner-time waiter was exceptionally courteous and made several wonderful suggestions, including for us to order a bottle of wine and “drink the rest of it at home”…how did you read my mind? I thought, answering: “No, no, a small glass will do. I’m not that kind of girl.”

Our meals took a little long to arrive, likely because they were made fresh, and so, a short while later, we were presented with a beautiful appetizer to tide us over:

Salmon with a pineapple vinaigrette and candied Meyer lemon, and a delicate lychee sorbet with a beet sauce reduction: a light amuse-bouche that still left me hungry enough for the main course, which is good, because I hate it when I’m not hungry.

My date ordered the duck confit (which I, of course, recommended wholeheartedly), and I, channeling my inner Mister Big, ordered a medium-rare beef medallion with those soft, buttery Qu├ębec style french fries…

Dinner was absolutely, impeccably delicious, and I really appreciated the Restaurant Director, Anthony Mason, coming over to personally greet me and to make sure everything was to our liking. It’s this sort of exceptional service, dedication, and care that draws you into the warmth of the Heron Restaurant, and why I will certainly return on many more occasions.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Home is Wherever You Are Laughing

One of the items I had included on my 30 before 30 list was to help my mom with a project. I had some ideas for things I could help her with, but nothing really stood out as the perfect opportunity, until she told me she had bought a new house. Up until that point, she had been living in a little townhouse in a sketchy part of town – the type where you see ten year old boys pushing old Christmas trees in shopping carts in March, and fourteen year old girls with mushroom cuts, kneeling on parking lot pavements, drawing dicks and the f word in different fonts. “At least she isn’t doing other things,” my mom would always say, proudly. In the summer, our communal backyards were a playground for Malik, Malachite, Ledandra, Crystelle, and Kara. At least, those were the names we heard shouted at them as the sun set. “Dinner! NOW!” was what usually followed. My sister and I used to watch them from our bedroom windows, and one day, we realized they had been outside for over ten hours, rehearsing a dance routine they – a group of pre-teens- had created themselves. It was absolutely insane. Some were doing breakdance moves, others had sexy solos. Creepily, I made a video, and here’s a shot from it:

Everyone is breaking it down to Britney Spears' "Freak Show"
One great thing about that neighborhood was the Tim’s down the street from our house. On a sunny Sunday morning, we’d walk over and grab coffees, as well as my mom’s famous wtf order, that went like this:

Mom: I would like maple pecan duh-nish. But could you please choose for me specific one?

Cashier: What?

Mom: I want one roasted with most nuts!

Cashier: What the fuck… (paraphrased)

Me: She’s saying she would like a maple pecan danish that is very well roasted and has the most pecans on it. She will show you the one she wants. I am so sorry.

There has never, ever, in the history of my mom’s co-existence with maple pecan danishes, been a time she didn’t ask for a specific one. Never has her order not been followed by “roasted with most nuts”, and, subsequently, my profuse, red-faced apology.
This was the kind of place you never had to wear make-up to, as the majority of its clientelle included families permanently outfitted in pyjama pants and velcro winter boots, Kenyan men congregating around laptops, discussing what always looked like mass purchases of Vitamin C, and, what we coined the Blueline Headquarters – the left corner of the shop, where you would always spot about seven to ten taxi drivers. Savouring our honey crullers, vanilla dips, and the roasted with most nuts, this little shop became where we gossipped about the week’s events, mended each other’s broken hearts, and divulged any great news. “This is Iran,” my mom always introduced me to her friend, a cashier who already knew my mom’s compulsive danish choices. “Are these your daughters?” Iran would point at us. “They beautiful!” My mom would always introduce us and we would smile as if we didn’t go through this entire spiel the weekend before, and the weekend before that, and the weekend before that.  It’s hard to say what was going on in Iran’s head, but we appreciated the sentiment.  One time, instead of Iran, there was a very tall Nigerian man at the cash. Shortly after we drank our coffees and left, I received a text that read: “Dis R-Poc, your mom say you lay tracks. I looking to produce album.”
“Why did you give him my number?” I asked my mom. “Because he is hot,” she answered. 

Our last visit to that glorious Tim's. My dark roast, Milhouse's double double, and mom's black with a roasted with most nuts

Despite all of the memories, it was time to move, and I was glad my mom finally made the decision to leave her comfort zone.  I decided that my big 30 before 30 project would be helping her with the move, and while she assured me everything would be taken care of, I knew better than to believe it.  The week before moving day, she had packed maybe two boxes, at best. “Don’t worry about it,” she assured me again, “All we’ll need to do on moving day is throw the stuff in boxes and go!”  ...right, that is how moving works. My dad had some hardcore surgery on his arm that week and though he assured us he was fine to carry 70lb boxes with the muscles in his arm freshly fused together, I threatened to call his surgeon if he showed up.  So, that left my eighteen year old sister who (sorry Milhouse) has the arm strength of a butter statue, my mom, and myself.  And…an entire house full of stuff.  This was when I realized we needed to hire movers. 
I found some dudes on Kijiji who claimed to be highly professional and by some stroke of luck, were available on extremely short notice, and when they showed up, I felt my soul seep out of my body.  I’ve never been to prison, but this is the closest I’ve come to seeing its occupants.  Mover #1 had black eyes with no white parts, like an octopus. His neck and half of his face was tattooed, and he wore white children’s winter gloves with the fingers cut off.  Mover #2 walked with a very serious limp, and had a braided goatee hanging down to his pelvis, which would shake as he chuckled- and how he chuckled.  Mover #3 had no teeth. 

As soon as they started walking through our house “assessing the work”, I considered the possibility of being murdered and/or having all of our things stolen.  As they kept walking around (with Mover #3 emitting hissing sounds) I motioned for my mom to come downstairs with me so we could figure out how the hell to get them to leave.  As we strategized, Mover #1 picked up my cat and then turned to us and said, “Is this a hairless?” 

“No shit it’s a hairless,” Mover #2 limped over and took her from him, “My cuz got one like it too. You see she’s timid, she ain’t seen you before.”  Well, she also ain’t seen black eyes before, but there’s a first time for everything.  Luckily, the movers told us there was “too much work” for the initially quoted price, and that they needed to speak to their boss outside “by phone” to make sure the price shouldn’t be going up.  They exited our house, as we took a collective sigh of relief, and then proceeded to pound on our door saying the price had now doubled. “That’s okay, we won’t be requiring your help then!” I shouted through the comfort of three inches of steel.  Over the next hour, our doorbell was rung about fifty times, our phone ringing constantly, until I picked up and got into a fight with their boss who promised they would do the job for the original price if I “would just give the guys a chance”.  *shudder* No. We were done with that. 

But the boxes still weren’t moved.

It was then that my mom remembered that she had been speaking with another moving company in the weeks prior, and that they had negotiated a price, but my mom didn’t want to pay it. (???) I quickly called them, and engaged in a conversation that I am still proud of. There was a lot of them hardballing me and me calling their bluff, and them saying they’re too busy, and me threatening to go with another company, and them ‘speaking to their boss and calling me back’ and me ‘speaking to my client and letting them know later if the price was acceptable’ and finally, we reached a deal, and they drove over.  These guys were ripped, with their boss, a Lebanese gentleman wearing diamond earrings and slickly defined facial hair, instructing them intensely and professionally.  They came in wearing matching shirts, had indoor shoes, and did not complain about my mom’s brooms and tiny statues of Mozart standing in their way.  “Talk to me, Irina” the boss would say to her, when she called out his name at thirty minute intervals, offering him cookies or beer, or to tell her about his relationship with his parents and if it influenced his decision to start this lucrative business. In addition to their efforts, I ended up driving about twenty cars full of stuff, and the move seemed to last not hours but weeks, but when everything was taken into the new house, and my mom sat on the floor with Mr.Diamond Earrings drinking tea, there was finally a sense of finality.

Nousha is the biggest fan of the fireplace
Now, when my mom drives to work in the morning, we pass farms and she points out goats and horses, and the sunrise. “I promise to drive straight if you promise to look at the sunshine!” she likes to say. She lives near a conservation area, and it’s very quiet all around us. Her front doormat says “Hello!” (of course), and the granite countertops are big enough to accommodate her obsessive fruit collection. She has already befriended her next door neighbors (“Marty gave me a push the other day because I didn’t shovel my driveway again! Lol!”) and begs me to move back in on a weekly basis, offering me the master bedroom and even the ensuite bathroom that has one of those enormous tubs for at least three people. I’m yet to be swayed, unfortunately. 

Yep. Big fan of the fireplace.

This counter space is now entirely filled up with various fruits

In hindsight, this blog post should've been about Nousha
Of course this severed hand made its way into my mom's new cupboard

When we sit by the new fireplace, my mom complains that the house is so big she can never make it to the phone, and then we reminisce on our old house. It was so small that everything was literally within reach, at all times.  The living room was the kitchen and the dining room. The bedrooms were the size of my mom’s new walk-in closet. But we were so happy, piling over each other on the big L-shaped couch, watching Friends for the millionth time with my mom laughing at the same jokes over and over again, with the Christmas trees in the shopping carts in March, and the dicks on the pavement, and the road that leads to Tim’s, and the words “happy birthday” stuck on the broken balcony doors, melted from years of summer sunlight, and the time we laughed so hard we couldn’t fall asleep, and the New Year’s Eve my parents danced together to Abba, and all of it, the place that we used to call home. 

My dad, having won four Hornies from our 2010 New Year's Eve Hornies awards

My favourite picture of all time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Esoteric Business of Life

When I first got into my daytime job, I didn’t think I’d be staying. This was about six years ago, and back then, my hipster boyfriend and I had bigger plans. We were saving to move to Brooklyn and while he would continue his work with MTV, I would start writing for Psychology Today and The New Yorker.  Right around the time I received my first rejection letter from the latter publication (a classy letter, might I add), it became apparent that, while Hipster Boyfriend would continue his stint in Williamsburg, I would have to stay in Ottawa to make all of da mad cash money. Having passed the interview and obtaining a full-time job that paid the bills on the apartment I now occupied alone, I defiantly took every writing course I could find, planning for my big escape to the big apple.  This was a ‘jobby job’ as we hipsterly called it, not a career. A career-we believed with a steadfast hunger- would be the confetti of our lives: an explosion of the elusive symbiosis of talent, passion, and success. Anything less was bullshit.

As a side note, this is what I kept in a folder called 'inspiration', back in those days. I don't even

This too, but this makes a bit more sense
A short while later, Hipster Boyfriend disappeared like Harmony Korine’s creative flow in Spring Breakers (lol right???), and I was left alone in the nation’s capital with a job that mocked me. So, I mocked it back, by wearing donut sweaters to work, and using the word “masturbatory” in meetings, among other elitist wanna-be edgy terms, to the inevitable horror of my coworkers.  I hated what I did because I thought I could do better, but I didn’t know what better I could do, so my hatred remained stagnant and unproductive.

Maya Angelou said: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”  I’ve thought about those words for years, but as with most quotes, they look much easier and prettier on paper than incorporated in real life.  And yet, something in me knew that there was no purpose in complaining about a job that I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t know where to go, so I began to consider the thought of actually enjoying what I did while I was there. A short while later, I started taking on extra projects, joining committees that were agents of change for issues I cared about, and asking for extra assignments at higher levels. Then, one day, I was offered a temporary promotion, just until they found a person to staff the role permanently.  The promotion was incredibly high and suddenly, my words were appearing in policies, and the writing techniques I had developed in those courses I had so defiantly taken while wearing my ironic t-shirts were now guiding my sentence flow in communication documents that were being read by hundreds of thousands of people across the country.  It wasn’t an underground oil painting collective, it wasn’t an SNL gig, or a screenwriting partnership with Terry Gilliam (or even Terry Richardson),  but it was a difficult job that left me feeling proud for those moments that were few and far between, when I did it right.

Then, the staffing process was announced, and I worked my ass off applying to keep my own job, despite the competition, despite how little I thought of my capabilities. Of course, some of the most stressful moments of my life had to coincide with the day my application was due, and I remember on several occasions, having to step out of the office to cry because my 70 million word job descriptions wouldn’t fit into the 200 word limits.  Over the next few weeks, I studied everything I could find about my job and its requirements, and while it meant me basically not having a break over the winter holidays, I’m glad to say the work paid off.  Just a few days ago, my managers and director shook my hand and offered me my position permanently, and when I left their office, I felt my eyes welling up with the kind of tears I had been reserving for Brooklyn.

My very sweet coworker treated me to a maple latte to celebrate...

And my thoughtful boss left a honey cruller on my desk! He asked if I would share it with my family and I said yes LOL k
What I’ve come to realize, and why I’m writing this now, is that a person’s happiness is not dependent on the type of job they do, but on how the job makes them feel.  A couple of weeks ago, I had provided some comments on a document that was later reviewed by my boss. I was later told that he had forwarded those comments immediately to his boss, because they had introduced an idea that nobody had thought of before.  On paper, that sounds utterly bureaucratic and dry. In real life, I must’ve smiled like an idiot while staring at my stuffed office monkey for about ten minutes. My silly ol’ words were resonating with a bunch of middle aged men! Wtfbbq! Also, my new office has a huge window so it’s always bright and sunny, which has been awesome for my new garden, and I’m far enough away from everyone that I can play my top 40 hits ad nauseum (a guilty pleasure since the end of my Placebo/Weeknd snob days)…

The flowers on my windowsill!

This morning, I found myself telling our boss to demand our stakeholders take the lead on a procedure that aims to establish roles that should have been defined in a working agreement years ago.  Then I did my nails and watered my roses. My job isn’t an eternal stream of happiness and creative out-pour, but it lets me balance who I am with being able to live a life of travel and endless desserts.  I wouldn’t be able to take my mom on a trip if I were working a low paying job in an over-saturated creative field, but with this one, I bought our tickets to Cuba for next month without worrying about what it would do to my Visa. You know what you just can’t top? Making another person happy, especially when you know that person could really, really use a break...

And on that note, I’m happy. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve come this far in this difficult job, that I haven’t lost myself, and that I’m this much closer to living the kind of life where we value today, and honour it, instead of worrying about where we aren’t, or about the things we can’t have.  Maybe I’ll discover another career path in the future. Maybe I’ll follow this one for a long, long time. I watched a video called “Status Anxiety” recently, from a series called The School of Life (you can YouTube it, it’s very cool) where, in the end, they say: “There remain so many vital sides of us that will never appear on our business cards, that don’t stand a chance of being captured by that maddeningly blunt and unimaginative question, ‘So, what do you do?’” So really, if all else fails, remember that you are so much more than where you sell your time for 7.5 hours a day. For me, that was the most difficult thought to live with, and something I wish I had stopped worrying about sooner.

Loving the job you have means taking all of the great parts from it and realizing how lucky you are to have them. I have a feeling the rest of life works that way too.

Alright, so back to being less serious…