A Birthday Surprise

Razzle Dazzle Cupckes London Ontario - Chocolate Raspberry Truffle ShuffleToday is my birthday!!!! I’m not shy about celebrating my special day and extending it into a birthday weekend. The opportunity to spend laugh-filled moments with my friends and family is a joy I look forward to all year. The ever increasing number on my “age-o-metre” never bothers me because I know that a number doesn’t reflect on my life. It only reflects on the time I’ve had to collect all the experiences which have shaped me into the person I am today!

All year I look forward to the yummy treats I allow myself to indulge in without guilt or regret. In fact, my biggest problem is coming up with where I’d like to go for my birthday dinner. To solve that issue, last year, the boy gave me “7 Days of Dinners” as a birthday gift. Every day, for a week, we had dinner at a different restaurant of my choice! By the end of the week I was stuffed and had all my cravings satisfied. It was amazing!

This year, my first birthday surprise was this beauty. The boy snuck off to my favourite London cupcake shop Razzle Dazzle Cupcakes and presented me with a delicious confection called the Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Shuffle.  The chocolate cake was light and moist, while the pink cloud of raspberry frosting was whipped perfection decorated with tiny pearls. It was a sweet start to my birthday.

A Taste of Niagara-on-the-Lake

FeetOn a sunny but cool Sunday morning, the boy and I set out on an early morning tour of Niagara-on-the-Lake. But we weren’t just planning to join the hordes of tourists cluttering the sidewalks of the prettiest town in Canada. No way! If we were going to drive two hours and then commit to walking for two more, there was going to be a reward that my taste buds would appreciate! Enter Niagara-on-the-Lake “Taste the Town” food tours.

Taste the Town Tour in Niagara-on-the-LakeJam tasting outside Greaves Jams in Niagara-on-the-LakeWe met Bill, the guide, and the other members joining the tour on the main street running through town. After an initial intro of names and where we hailed from, the thirteen of us, some from as far as Vancouver and Saskatoon, quickly fell into a friendly banter. Of course, I had to roll my eyes when once again someone assumed that we hailed from “the other London” (must be the accent…NOT!).

As the tour began, we popped into our first stop, Greaves Jams and Marmalades to sample three jams; apricot, plum, and blueberry. Everyone had a favourite. I had my first sugar rush of the day. Delicious!

Interior of Greaves Jams in Niagara-on-the-LakeSamples from Greaves Jams on the Niagara-on-the-Lake Taste the Town TourBill led the group on a meandering walk through the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Every so often he would pause to point out prime examples of the architectural styles that dot this early Canadian town. His booming voice and entertaining anecdotes filled us in on the historical significance of key locations. This was a place of many firsts. First capital of Upper Canada. First museum. First library. First national bank. And this is the only place in Canada that has a Lord Mayor!

Walking Around Niagara-on-the-LakeBeautiful White House in Niagara-on-the-LakeMansion in Niagara on the LakeTudor-style-house in Niagara on the LakeHorse and Carriage in Niagara on the LakeOur next stop was an olive oil and vinegar tasting at Oliv Tasting Room. The owners import their oil from a family farm in South Africa, while the balsamic vinegars hail from Modena in Italy. The buttery flavour of the oils coated my tongue while leaving behind a fresh, green, peppery taste. The lovely owner of the shop shared a few of the uses of the products by handing out samples of quickly assembled hors d’ouvres. Garlic oil on popcorn won the day for me!

Olive-oil-bottles at Oliv Tasting Room in Niagara on the Lakepopcorn-and-oil at Oliv Tasting Room in Niagara on the LakeAfter the oil tasting, we plunged back onto the sun-filled sidewalks. We slowly wandered down to the edge of Lake Ontario where we got our next taste of the tour. We savoured a dark chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting and a luscious cheesecake bite courtesy of Con Gusto Artisan Bakery.

View of Lake Ontario from Somerset B&B in Niagara on the LakeCupcake-and-cheesescake from Con Gusto Artisan BakeryAfter a brief pause to rest our feet on the back patio of the Somerset B&B, we continued to our next two stops. At Bistro Six-One, we were greeted with a freshly wood-oven made Mediterranean style pizza and a beautiful dark amber beer. The aptly named Cheese Secret (a tiny shop hidden behind the buildings of the main drag – Queen Street) offered a sampling of their cheeses along with dried fruit and crackers.

Mediterranean pizza at Bistro Six-One in Niagara on the LakeCheese-and-fruit from Cheese Secret On the way to our final stop of the tour we passed The Olde Angel Inn. The home of a delicious restaurant and an even more delicious tale of ghostly visits. The Olde Angel, Ontario’s oldest operating inn, is said to be haunted by Captain Colin Swayze who was murdered by American soldiers while awaiting the arrival of his sweetheart. He is said to walk the Inn at night and be responsible for many unexplained occurrences. Anyone who knows me and my fascination with the spooky world beyond will realize that dinner at the restaurant is now on my “Must Do” list. I might just have to do a Haunted Walk blog post from Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The Olde Angel Inn Niagara on the LakeThe final stop of the tour was the Maple Leaf Fudge shop. My sweet tooth was gratified by the melt-in-your-mouth, in-house made, chocolate and maple fudge samples.

At this little shop a thought struck me about all the businesses we visited on the tour. They are small, local, often family run operations. They are the kind of places that make small towns special and need the patronage of both residents and tourists to continue operating. Niagara-on-the-Lake Taste the Town provides the tour goers with a 10% off coupon to each of the business for some after tour shopping. The boy and I were more than happy to oblige.

Fudge-sales-counter at Maple Leaf Fudge in Niagara on the LakeFudge-counter at Maple Leaf FudgeMaple Leaf Fudge boutique in Niagara on the LakeAnd since I’ve already let you in on my ghostly secret obsession, I might as well tell you that I also believe in fate. The fact that I now live in Canada, in London in particular, and the fact that I have a very special man in my life, I attribute to destiny. So I couldn’t leave Niagara-on-the-Lake without taking note of a very special sign. Maybe fate is telling me to find a more permanent spot in Canada’s prettiest town!

Monika's Boutique Niagara on the LakeSelfie while on the Niagara on the Lake Taste the Town Tour

 

How to find dinner in the woods

Sun streaming through the trees near Stratford OntarioThis past weekend I went on a nostalgic romp through the woods…looking for dinner. As the leaves turn colour and the weather notches lower on the thermometer, I hear the call of my European roots to head into nature in search of some edible treasures. So I grabbed the boy, a basket and some rubber boots and made for the wilds of Southern Ontario.

Walking through the trees near Stratford OntarioThe foraging caravan - foraging for mushrooms near Stratford OntarioJust so we are clear, I had no idea where I was going or what I was looking for. And I had a hard time quieting the boy’s concern that my lack of knowledge might kill us. To calm both our fears I decided to call for reinforcements. Step in Peter Blush, master forager from Stratford and founder of Puck’s Plenty, a foraging tour company. Peter is a renaissance man of sorts. A former news correspondent for the Viet Nam war who moved to Quebec to run a B&B, then turned to a new interest in foraging while becoming a writer with a novel short listed for the Robertson Davies Prize. In short, the most perfect and knowledgeable guide I could find.

Speaking with Peter Blush - Guide of the foraging tourPeter, along with his dogs Liam and Faolan, leads foraging events every weekend pretty much year round. Although there is a cost involved, he never lacks participants and most events sell out quickly. On this sunny morning, he led a group of ten, most of whom turned out to be European, in search of mushrooms, wild leaks, and wild ginger.

A stream in the woods while on a foraging adventure in Southwestern OntarioGiant Puffball MushroomWild leaks found while foraging in Southwestern OntarioWild ginger plant near Stratford OntarioOn the path with a dogKeeping my eyes peeled for goodies spread out by mother nature under our feet, I breathed the fresh crisp air. As the wind played through the woods rustling the leaves and making the trees creak, I stomped bravely through mud and streams mindful of the path set by our guides.

Dogs in the trailMushroom hunting in a forest near Stratford OntarioDog by the streamWyldwood Conservation areaOur patience and efforts paid off. We returned home with a bounty of puffballs, blewit mushrooms, gem studded mushrooms and wild leaks. No words can describe the taste of a dinner so hard won!

Wild mushrooms and leak bulbs