Category Archives: Destinations

AUTHENTIC TENERIFE: Go north for the real Canary Island lifestyle.

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Are there canaries on the Canary Islands? Not the bright yellow types that get hoodwinked into going down coal mines.CanarioCropped copyThe ones that live there are small and brownish as I discovered on a recent trip. How did these humble creatures inspire this group of seven islands off the coast of Africa to be named after them? They didn’t. The Canary Islands were named because when the Spanish arrived in the 1400s, they found the Guanches (the tall, blond first peoples), had these really big dogs. The name was derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning “Islands of the Dogs.” I didn’t see any of the dogs, known as Presa Canaria, but my Tenerife guide Cathy Michel showed me a picture on her phone. They are huge mastiffs and have to wear muzzles, but Cathy said she had once owned one and he was a gentle giant.Perro-de-Presa-Canario-AmericanKennelClubHere’s a shot I lifted from the Internet, credited to the American Kennel Club. Although the Guanches died out, Cathy noted “all Canary Island have a little of their blood in them.”
Tenerife is a volcanic island (321 volcanos, but only one active) with a year round average temperature of 23ºC. It has an area of 1056 sq. km, is 250 km in circumference and has a population of 900,000 that swells to almost six million with the tourist influx every winter. In the mid ‘70s the government wanted to jump-start the economy and started offering package tours from the UK to the south of the island, known for its beaches and hotter weather. The Brits bought in big time, and still do. However, there is a move afoot to draw tourists to the more “authentic” northern end of the island where the majority of the Canarian population lives.
MonumentView copyI wanted to explore the authentic side of the island so I stuck to the north where the rocky landscape was layered with terraced farms, wineries, and hiking and biking trails.LaLagunaLobbyHome base was the La Laguna Gran Hotel, in La Laguna, a town of 125,000 that was named capital of the island when the Spanish came in 1496. (In 1823 Santa Cruz became the capital because it was a port town.) At 550 meters above sea level, the town was seven km from the coast, and dotted with majestic buildings that once belonged to nobility but now are mostly government offices.LaLagunaBlock copyCathy told me to look for crowns embedded the crests above front entrances. “That signifies royalty,” she explained. Unusual for a volcanic island, this town was flat. It was named a World Heritage UNESCO site in 1999, boasted a university, cathedral and 16th-18th century houses with balconies made of tough, weather-resistant Canarian pine.
I was fascinated with the town’s convent of Santa Catalina de Siena where 19 nuns lived.LaLagunaConvent copyA city block in size with a vegetable garden and courtyard, it had screened wooden balconies on one corner so the nuns could see the rest of the world (they never go out). Home to the mummified body of Maria de Jesus de Leon y Delgado, a nun from the 17th century, the convent is open one day a year (Feb. 15) so the public can pay their respects to her.
Around the corner, I discovered “La Catedral” Dulcerio y Panaderia.LaLagunaBakeryOwnerOwner Maria del Carmen Hernandez told me it had been in his family for 104 years. The sweet, flaky pastries were stuffed with various fruits and even a squash that when cooked down is known as “angel’s hair.”
The town’s cathedral was not that old, Cathy told me.LaLagunaCathedral copy“It’s the same design as the one in Pamplona. The concrete roof caved in and they had to rebuild it a year ago.”
At the north-eastern tip of the island I found myself in Anaga Rural Park, where I could literally look down upon a sea of clouds.TeideClouds copyIt took my breath away. The forest was full of plants whose seeds had blown there on the trade winds from the Mediterranean. It was raining slightly and water dripped from the laurel leaves, soaking the earth.AnagaPath copyThe humidity of this region is what irrigated the farms below, Cathy told me. “They capture the water and use for crops, especially bananas.” At the visitor’s welcome centre, we watched a video describing this island of 321 volcanos “a biosphere where a magical sea of clouds tangles with the trees.” I learned of the island’s famous wine, goat cheese, dragon trees, palms and junipers. A local guide, Pedro Mederos, explained, “In Anaga, the highest mountain is around 1,000 meters. On the way up, you can see the plants change. In the lower areas, live rabbits, partridges, and Paloma pigeons. The locals hunt the rabbits and partridges for food.”
Next, we drove to Chinamada to see the caserias, or cave houses.MountainEntrance copyMountainHouse copyWalking along the cliff side, we can to a little home carved into the stone. A man waved us over and took us inside to listen to him playing what looked like a little ukulele.MountainMan copy“I’m playing a timple, I learned from my father who loved folksongs,” he told us. Valentine Ramos Ramos explained that he was born in this house in 1962. “I was named after St. Valentines because I was born on that day.”
Lunch was in Taganana, known as the village at the end of the world. Why? It’s near the end of the coastal road in Anaga.AfricaBeach copyNote the colour of the beach…black sand.At the beach front restaurant Casa Africa. we dug into fresh fish, potatoes and salad. Next was San Andres and Las Teresitas Beach. TeresitasBeach copy“The sand at this beach used to be black from the volcanic rock, but the government had gold sand brought in from the Sahara (when it was the property of Spain) because the black sand grew too hot in the sun and burned your feet,” Cathy said.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital, was founded in 1825 and with its population of 250,000 it is the largest city in the North.SantaCruz-Auditorium copyPerhaps its most famous structure is the Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2003. He also designed salt water swimming pools by the ocean. “The residents were not too happy at first since it cost millions. They would have preferred the money to be spent on schools,” explained Cathy. And yet, it was beautiful, and many people were enjoying the water view from it’s beautifully designed cafe.
One of Santa Cruz’s newest attractions is La Casa Carnaval, the Carnival Museum. Walking into the building, the first thing I set my eyes on was the Queen’s costume from 2018.CarnavalQueen3 copyAn astounding assemblage of red and gold, glitter, feathers and absolute fabulousness, I discovered it had wheels underneath. “The costume weights 360 kilos. The Queen must walk into her costume, then she is crowned with the 11 kilo headpiece,” Miriam, my museum guide explained.
Every year a queen, granny and girl child (girls 5-8 years) are elected. There is even a Reina Infantil del Carnaval, who makes sarcastic political statements. Just about every Canarian is involved with a murgas, or themed group that spends all year devising their costumes. Bands are made of mock instruments fitted with kazoos and the characters that are seen every year include Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp’s Pirate of the Caribbean, Miss Piggy, Fidel Castro, Groucho Marx…and Canadian Mounties!
ParadorPatio copyIn the center of the island is Teide National Park, where you can climb Spain’s highest peak, Mt. Tiede (or take the cable car, like me).TeideCablecarVolcanic lava chunks from the 3000-meter-high mountain were scattered about everywhere, giving the area an almost surface-of-the-moon appearance. This is a popular destination and gets almost three million visitors a year. If you opt to climb the final summit, which takes around 45 minutes from the top of the cable car you have to book in advance. They only let 200 people go up a day, 50 per hour. Go from the lower car park and you don’t need a reservation, just four hours to go up and four to go down.
Down the road from the cable car was Parador de las Cañadas del Teide. Open year round, the hotel offers guests a stargazing program since the area’s dark skies have made it one of the top astronomy locations in the world.ParadorCyclist copyParadorEntrance copyParadorInterior copyThe 37-room property is popular with cyclists who use the area for high-altitude training. “Lance Armstrong came here for five years to train. And British cyclist Chris Froome stayed here. Guests like the location and food,” explained Alejandro Garcia Valerio, the hotel’s director. Heading to the dining room, I learned that goat and rabbit were the most popular signature dishes.
PuertodelaCruzSeaWalk copy 2In Puerto de la Cruz, I joined the crowds and walked along the sea wall, then headed to Plaza del Charco to people watch and sip a delicious barraquito coffee (Licor 43, sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, and espresso) at one of the square’s many cafes.
Tenerife is covered with spikey odd trees that are not really trees, but a sort of cactus-like plant called Dragon Trees.LaCasaDrago copyIn Icod de los Vinos I saw the island’s 500-year-old specimen and tried some of the sweet Drago’s Blood liquor.
MascaUmbrellas copyPerhaps one of the most picturesque spots I visited was the hamlet of Masca. Winding pathways took me past mountainside homes looking down on terraced gardens and the blue ocean.MascaMountain copy
Dinner that night was in Garachico, once the island’s capital. A devastating volcano eruption in 1706 changed that when the harbour was swallowed up.GarachicoRoofRochas copyRebuilt and beautiful, I was charmed by the cobbled streets, churches, and historic buildings.GarachicoSanRoquesInteriorAt the boutique San Los Roques hotel, owner Dominic Carayon first took me on a tour of the 17th century building. “It had been abandoned for 10 years and was in bad shape. It took four years to finish the renovations.
Wooden floors, warm colours and art objects could be seen throughout the elegant property and the fine food offered in the hotel’s restaurant Anturium matched the mood perfectly. We nibbled on aged goat cheese, tender wreckfish and finished the meal with a lovely light flan. “In the 1990s, Tenerife just a sun destination. This area was depressed and the population elderly. My family had an incoming travel agency working with Finland, France and Spain,” said Dominic. They knew the tourism business well and after Dominic’s father, who was French, passed away, he and his Spanish mother decided to get into the hotel business. “We were the first to open in Garachico and now there are two more hotels.” Slowly, it seems, tourists are discovering this historic town.
If you are looking for “authentic” Tenerife, stick to the north. Exploring the history, natural beauty and local colour is nourshing for the soul and a far richer experience than simply lounging on the beach.

The Food of Tenerife

Chef Moises Rodriguez, making his magical mojo at Monje Winery.

Chef Moises Rodriguez, making his magical mojo at Monje Winery.


What is travelling without eating? Might as well stay home! In the Canary Islands, I found the cuisine to be simple, basic and wonderful. Many fruits and vegetables grow here including avocados, papayas, apples, potatoes and squash. There is a Latin American influence which you can taste in the ubiquitous sauces served with every meal – mojo rojo and mojo verde.ReguloMojos The red mojo has red pepper, chili, garlic, oil and almonds. The green version is infused with coriander and parsley. Every eating establishment prides itself on its unique mojo.
One dish that was also everywhere was wrinkle potatoes, brought from Latin American by the conquistadors. Back in the 1400s when Spain claimed the islands, they brought the grape vines – now some of the oldest in the world. There are more than 100 wineries on the island, but only a few are open to the public. Interesting facts…while Europe suffered the devastation of all its vineyards starting in the late 1800s due to an infestation of the aphid-like bug called phylloxera, the Canary Islands were left untouched. Storied characters in history that loved Canary Islands wine? Shakespeare and Ben Franklin.
Fish is a favourite meal, including octopus and salt cod, caught off the African coast. Just about every meal is accompanied by wrinkle potatoes. MonjePotatoes copyMy guide, Cathy Michel told me they get two to three crops a year, but a special variety known as “black potatoes,” with purple skins and egg-yolk yellow interior, is harvested only once a year. “They are very expensive, between five and nine euros per kilo.” Wrinkle potatoes are cooked in heavily salted water with their skins on. When the water evaporates, it leaves a salty crust on the potatoes. People like to eat their potatoes with their favourite mojo. There’s no butter on the island, since there are no cows…no grazing fields to be found on this volcanic rock! Instead, olive oil is a go-to condiment.
My favourite mojo was the rojo, mashed with goat cheese and spread on bread or crackers.
Following are some of the great places where I sampled Canarian cuisine.ReguloExterior copyIn Puerto de la Cruz, Restuarante Regulo near the Plaza del Charco. Regulo-Mojo:GoifuReguloFriedGoatCheeseWe started with bread with chorizo, gofio slices (toasted flour mixed with honey), grilled Canarian fresh goat cheese with mojo sauces and honey, and Canarian Ropavieja which is a traditional chickpea stew. ReguloFishOur main was grilled grouper filets with wrinkle potatoes and mojo. Not that I had much room left, but dessert was a melt-in-your mouth quesillo (translated it means “little cheese,” we call it flan) with vanilla ice cream.Regulo-FlanIceCreamOur wines were white and red Arautava DO Valle de la Orotava. To top it all off? ReguloBarraquitoA barraquito coffee – sweetened condensed milk, steamed milk, espresso and the secret ingredient, Licor 43 (made with citrus and fruit juices).
In Taganana, known as the village at the end of the world (it’s at the end of the island’s most north-easterly road), I came across Casa Africa restaurant.AfricaExterior copy The owner’s name is Africa and she has run it for 60 years.AfricaPouring copy Packed with locals, I knew it was going to be good. There was a choice of fried whole fish or octopus done in black pepper and olive oil. I chose the fish, which they called abadejo, Pollock and tasted my friend’s octopus.AfricaFish copyAfricaOctopus copy It was delicious. AfricaSalad copyThe meal started with soup and a colourful salad and was accompanied by a bowl of gofio (used as a thickener for the soup) and a carafe of local white wine. All for a reasonable 13 Euros.
For an upscale experience, I tried the Hotel San Roque in Garachico. We started dinner with goat cheese cubes and papas arrugadas (boiled Canarian potatoes) with mojo verde and almogrote sauces.GarachicoAnturiumGoatCheese copy Our main was cancocho, a Canarian wreckfish, grilled then steamed with sweet potato mash, Canarian potato chips, slightly spicy red mojo and gofio crisps with palm honey.GarachicoAnturiumFish copy Good thing the portions were small. I had just a sliver of room left for dessert, banana foam with yoghurt ice cream and mini cinnamon rosquetes. Our wines were a white Vinatigo and a red Binatigo Negramoli.
The next morning in La Laguna, I headed to Dulceria y Panaderia “La Catedral.” This bake shop has been in the same spot for 104 years, the owner Maria del Carmen Hernandez Garcia told me. LaLagunaCateralBakery copyLight and fluffy, the pastries were filled with local fruits and the La Laguna special I had was stuffed with a squash mixture known as “angel hair.” Delicious.
Dinner was in Santa Cruz, at Baobab Restaurant on the cobblestoned Calle La Noria. My spicy tuna in a tomato sauce was hearty and filling.BaobabPotatoes copy
The day I visited Teide National Park, home to Spain’s highest peak, I capped off my cable car ride with a visit to Parador de las Cañadas del Teide. The luxurious parador had an elegant restaurant with superb food. Rabbit is the signature dish here, as well as goat.ParadorPatio copyParador-GoatCheeseParadorRabbit
Tenerife has some very unique plants, due to seeds being blown there by the strong trade winds. The Dragon Tree is not quite a tree, not quite a palm or cactus. LaCasaDrago copyThese spikey, brush-topped plants can live a long time and at Casa de la Drago in Icod de los Vinos, I got to view the Drago Milenario, which is 500 years old. The casa is a lovely little café next to the the storied tree and there I tasted dragon’s blood, a liquor known as Drag’s made from the bright red fruit of the dragon tree and only found on the Canary Islands. It was very sweet. I also tasted Ucana, a liquor made from banana syrup. LaCasaDragoBananaliquor“Have a tupito, a little slurp,” said my server Alicia. My favourite was a seven-year-old rum tempered with honey and palm syrup. A tad spicy, but not as sweet as the other liquors. At the café gift shop, I was fascinated with large posters of the famous men who are associated with the island including Charles Darwin and French writer and godfather of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton.
At Meson del Norte in Portellas, part of the Buenavista region, I learned that there are a few cows on Tenerife. MasonDelNorteBar copyMasondelNorteMeat copyThe menu was practically all meat and my server explained that the restaurant’s beef came from cattle kept in a barn nearby. I had seen a cattle crossing sign on the road to the restaurant. Talk about farm to table. As well as beef, goat, rabbit and pork were featured items. I went for the garbanzo stew with shredded pork. Very filling.ReguloGarbanzoStew
I wanted to learn more about Tenerife’s viniculture, so I headed to Monje Winery for wine tasting and a mojo-making class. Monje-FilipeSmiling copyOwner Felipe Monje kindly showed me around the property. His family had always cultivated the area, but the land had been divided up many times to 10-12 ancestors, he told m. “My father bought it all back in 1956. I remember hanging out here as a young boy, eating grapes and looking for birds.” They began with two wines and now have 14 and produce 150,000 bottles a year. Seventy per cent of their wine is sold in Spain, 20 per cent goes to the US and 10 per cent to Europe. In the vineyard he pointed to one of the vines, “It’s 200 years old. Vines here live a long time. Other places they only make it to 50 or 80 years.”
The 17-hectar vineyard is located 600 meters above sea level and the way it slopes, a perfect micro climate for grapes occurs. The types of grapes, Felipe tells me, all came from Europe originally but mutated due to the subtropical climate. Their classic wines are Listan Negro and Blanco which are matured from six to 18 months in casks. MonjeBarrels“Most of our barrels are 45 years old, but we have six that are 200 years old and were originally used to import rum and molasses from Cuba. Our barrels are oak and chestnut, the young wine absorbs the flavors from the crystals inside barrel,” explained Felipe, and showed me a piece of a barrel lined with crystals.Monje-Crystals
On the fourth floor below ground was a tasting room and wine bar for corporate events. Felipe laughs about one of their events, Wine & Sex. “It’s not an orgy,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve done for eight years, four times a year. It matches wine, eroticism and cuisine. Around 120 local people come and for four taste five wines, eat appetizers and watch fantastical entertainers.”
Something very unique that Monje does is submarine wine. “It matures more quickly under sea. MonjeSubmarineWine copyWe put it in a metal box 20 meters below for four to five months. The pressure and movement makes a compact composition of the wine. Five wineries in world do this. We’ve done it for three years.” The special kicker is that divers who have open water certification can go down the 20 meters, into sealed, underwater capsule, take off their masks, uncork the wine and take a sip. “Four people can fit and there is oxygen in the dome.”
My mojo making class was terrific and I learned it’s all in the strength of your pulverizing arm! MonjiMoRojoYour mortar and pestle have to be a good size to really crush all the ingredients together. The results were delicious and the perfect idea for a party.
The Monje wines I tasted:
Drago Blanco – a good 1st date wine! A little sweetness in the finish.
Bibiana – name of Felipe’s daughter – rose, strawberry tones.
Holler – like a swear word – cholera 13% – whole grape with stem goes into wine. Violet flavor – like a gamay. A lot of sun on this part of island. Goes with cheese and cured meat.
Tradicional – Three types of grapes – A top seller, most Canarian. Goes well with stewed meats and soups. 2015
Tintella – eight months in the barrel, one grape – Tintilla. Aged in an American oak barrel which imparts vanilla versus French oak which has more spice. 14%, 2013
Interesting fact: French oak is more expensive because you need to use the centre only. With American oak, you can use the whole tree. That’s why it is half the price.
WIneMuseumPress copy 2WIneMuseumInterior copy 2To learn more about the wine and honey of Tenerife my last stop was Casa del Vino, Tenerife Wine Museum and Honey Museum. A great place to get a grip on the island’s vinifera and honey making.
Canary Island cuisine in a nutshell? Healthy, simple and delicious.

Dishing the Delish in Music City

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I did lots more than eat while I was in Nashville recently and you can read about my music, civil rights, history and art explorations in other posts. But, this one is all about eating.
What better way to start a foodie tour of Nashville than at Christie Cookie Co.? I stepped into the aromatic shop on trendy 12th Ave. South and my taste buds started to tingle.ChristieCookies The back story is that owner Christie Hauck used to bake cookies for his college friends when he attended Vanderbilt University. They were so popular he went into the cookie business after he graduated in 1983. Starting out as a mail-order operation, he made his oatmeal raisin cookies first, then branched into lots of other flavours including chocolate chip with toffee, and peanut butter chocolate chip with toffee. Yum! His secret? No GMO or preservatives, real butter, chocolate from sustainably farmed cocoa beans and fresh ingredients. You can get them online or at Kroger grocery stores. American Airlines and United Air serve them to first class customers. Double Tree hotels give warm Christie’s chocolate chip cookies to guests when they check in. Store manager Chrissie tells us, “The plant in in Germantown, six miles from here. They make 100 million cookies annually. At Christmas the plant looks like Santa’s workshop.”
UrbanGrubExterior After this pre-appetizer, I headed to Urban Grub, up the street. A rather secret spot since it has no outdoor signage, it’s well known to locals. In fact, you can’t miss the distinctive exterior – it’s located in a renovated carwash.OK, time for the real appetizers and this place had mouth watering choices. I dug into the charcuterie board which included house-smoked meats and prosciutto. The Andouille sausage was superb, a pork loin with batter, rub and sauce melted in my mouth, and I also scarfed down a few delicious peel and eat shrimp and some delicious diver scallops.UrbanGrubShrimp
Time for my mains at Josephine where chef Andy Little is focused on classic recipes…Little was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast in 2017 and I could see why. From Pennsylvania, he fused some traditions from his home state into modern alternatives. For instance, his hot scrapple was ground pork shoulder and chicken liver, corn meal and fennel. “It’s usually made from scraps,” he explained. Also on the menu were roasted chicken, brined overnight, deep fried in peanut oil then roasted, chopped kale salad, fingerling potatoes and pickled mushrooms. Stick-to-the-ribs good.JosephineChicken
Dessert was at Flipside, also on 12th Ave. S., where milkshakes are a specialty.FlipsideMilkshakes
Next day, lunch was at The Farm House, downtown, south of Broadway. Chef-owner Trey Cioccia has come up with a homey décor and a custom menu featuring from-scratch ingredients supporting local or family-owned businesses.FarmhouseInterior The bar is only of of a handful in the U.S. with all inventory purchased from distillers and brewers operating in the contiguous 48 states. No booze for me, though. Too early. Instead I had a deeply flavourful cup of coffee and a superior club sandwich.FarmhouseClub
Dinner that night was at Folk, newest venture of Rolf & Daughters chef/owner Philip Krajeck. This place was listed by Bon Appetite magazine as one of America’s best new restaurants of 2018. The place was hopping and a table nearby was filled with women wearing birthday hits. Apparently, I was told, Nashville is a top choice for bachelorette parties. I decided to go light and indulged in the wood-fired pizza … scrumptious.FolkPizza
The following day, I headed to Woolworth on 5th, which occupies the historic Woolworth building where civil rights protesters conducted sit-ins that eventually lead to desegregating lunch counters. (See my Nashville Civil Rights post.) Today they make a point that the restaurant “welcomes all.” Southern cuisine reigns supreme here. Fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, pot roast black eyed peas with chow chow, biscuits and grits, corned beef hash. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but it was after noon so I opted for the fried green tomatoes with a dab of goat cheese and an heirloom tomato salad with crumbled blue cheese. Fantastic.Woolworth-TomatoSalad
Dinner was at Little Octopus, where influences from the Caribbean, Spain, India, England, Portugal and Lebanon can be seen on the creative menu.LittleOctopusPainting Plates were served family style and our group shared seasonal ceviche with snapper, cobia and scallops, beet salad with fennel, goat cheese and chickpeas, cucumbers with buttermilk and mint and wax beans with black bean sauce and peanuts. Super clean and healthy. A good way to combat over indulgence in the usual southern-fried fare.LittleOctopus-starters
A highlight during my trip was the 1.5 mile Walk Eat Nashville tour with company founder and CEO Karen-Lee Ryan. A former journalist and editor at The Tennessean, Karen-Lee is passionate about her hometown and its good eats. First stop was Hattie B’s Hot Chicken on 19th Ave. S. HattieB-LineThis place gets huge lineups on the weekend, but luckily our group was treated to a quick taste before opening at lunchtime. Nashville Hot Chicken has a story attached. “Forty years ago, Thornton Prince came home from a night of womanizing and his wife decided to punish him. That Sunday night she poured extra hot spice into his fried chicken. But it backfired. He loved it!” says John Lasater, chef and owner of the restaurant. There are now three Hattie B’s throughout Nashville, but the 19th Ave. one is the original location.HattieB-Chicken “We offer mild, medium, hot, damn hot and Shut the Cluck Up,” noted Lasater. I opted for medium after Karen-Lee offered, “When I ate Shut the Cluck Up there were tears streaming down my face. I knew exactly where that chicken was in my body at all time.” Um…TMI?
Gigi-CupcakesOur second stop was Gigi’s Cupcakes next door. Gigi Butler came to Nashville from California with visions of becoming a country music superstar. Instead she found herself with a maxed out credit card, cleaning house for singer Leann Rimes. Her brother had called her from New York City where he stood in line for cupcakes one evening. “They are not as good as yours. You should start a business in Nashville,” he told her. And she did. Now she has nearly 100 locations in 23 states. Wow. Although Wedding Cake is the number one flavour, I tried Midnight Magic…and that is was. Decadently sweet and buttery.
Midtown-ExteriorAt Tavern Midtown we got back to apps and mains with an amazing kale salad with toasted almonds and Parmesan cheese, Philly cheese steak, and buffalo cauliflower with cornmeal crust and blue cheese dip (my fave).Midtown-KaleMitownCauliflowerMidtownRedVelvetWaffleDessert was red velvet waffles. More decadence! This place was rocking as it is super popular for brunch.
Finally, time for a drink. At Mason Bar in Loews Hotel, I sampled a Music City Spritzer made with Corsair gin, Aperol, grapefruit, and Prosecco. Very refreshing. This place had been voted best hotel bar due to the creativity of the mixologist, plus the great snacks from chef Patrick Gossett, including a small plate of cobia on creamed cauliflower.MasonBar
Our final stop on the food tour was Elliston Place Soda Shop. Opened in 1939, this place has had many cameos on movies, Al Gore did an interview here after he announced his run for president and the Nashville TV show has done 10 episodes here. SodaShop-ExteriorThis little 68-seater is not a museum for owner Skip Bibb, who also calls himself “Head Jerk.”SodaShopInterior “I feel a sense of stewardship about this place. I haven’t tried to change much because there’s a vivid history here. One couple came by and they were celebrating their 65th anniversary. They’d had their first date here.” It’s also hub for celebs and I noticed John Schneider from Dukes of Hazzard was sitting in a banquet while we were there. He probably came in for a milkshake, since they were voted No. one for the creamy confections in Nashville.
The last night’s dinner was at Nicky’s Coal Fired, where coal fired pizzas are baked in a four-ton oven.NickysKitchenNickys-Pizza
This was just the tip of the iceberg. Nashville has become a culinary hot spot. “A hundred new restaurants opened last year,” Karen-Lee told me. Why? “Nashville in a creative place. Musician are all about collaboration and so are the chefs. Here, they don’t work in isolation, but support each other.” Next time I’ll bring my extra-stretchy pants.

Civil Rights Champions of Nashville

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Nashville, I recently learned, is not only about country music. Walking along Fifth Avenue North downtown, I came upon a plaque explaining how one of the original “five and dime” stores, F.W. Woolworth became the site of some of the first lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.CivilRights-WalgreensSign A stop on the Civil Rights Trail, this was the first city in the south to begin the desegregation process.Woolworth-ExteriorNow known as the restaurant Woolworth on Fifth, the storied site was built in the 1890s and went through a number of retail tenants before opening its doors as F.W. Woolworth in 1913. The lunch counter was introduced in 1925 but a fire in 1941 destroyed the store’s interior. It opened a year later with better displays and two lunch counters, one on the main floor and a second on the mezzanine level. In 1976, Woolworth’s closed and various businesses rotated through, including a Dollar General. But all along, people knew it as a landmark for the city’s civil rights movement. A lot of excitement had built up by the time Tom Morales and his TomKats Hospitality team reopened the door this past February, welcoming all to Nashville’s most historically significant restaurant.Woolworth-LunchCounterWalking in was like walking back in time. The lunch counter loomed on the right, much like it must have been almost 60 years ago with swiveling peach-coloured stools and backlit signs for seafood gumbo, pancakes and cream pie. Upstairs on the mezzanine level, the renovation has not been completed and I could see the second lunch counter’s original wall tiles and bolts in the floor for the stools. This was where U.S. congressman and civil rights champion John Lewis was first arrested, marking the beginning of a movement of nonviolent protest challenging segregation (Jim Crow laws of the 1890s prohibited African Americans from eating at public lunch counters) and racism that saw Lewis arrested 49 more times.Frist-WoolworthCounter
Downstairs, the dry goods cases have long disappeared and the floor was filled with tables of lively groups digging into heaped plates of fried green tomatoes, pot roast and mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and hot, fried chicken sandwiches. I joined them and was especially delighted with the fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese and red pepper jam.Woolworth-FriedGreenTomato The menu definitely celebrated southern cooking and I noticed sides included black eyed peas with chow chow, collard greens, candied yams and skillet fried cabbage. It was fascinating and unsettling to try and piece together what had happened here so many years ago. I asked my server how had black citizens been served before desegregation, did they have a separate area? She looked at me. “No. they had to go out back and ask for what they wanted there.” Wow. Library-SitInPhotoThe sit-ins began in February 1960 when a group of young black college students from Fisk University, American Baptist College and Tennessee A&L walked into a number of downtown lunch counters and asked to be served. The students followed the nonviolent protest techniques of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and were diligently trained by Rev. Kelly Miller Smith Sr. at Nashville’s First Baptist Church Capitol Hill. The method was to endure abuse without reacting or fighting back. Two more sit-ins occurred in the following weeks and Woolworth’s closed its street level lunch counter and would only allow whites up to the mezzanine level. A few days later the home of civil right attorney A. Alexander Looby was bombed and 4,000 students, including John Lewis, marched to the count house to confront Mayor Ben West.Fisk student Diane Nash asked him if segregation at lunch counters was morally right, and he answered “No.” The process of desegregation at downtown lunch counters had begun.Library-Mayor
I had heard John Lewis speak at St. John the Divine church in Manhattan years ago and was curious to read more about his journey. The Nashville Public Library Civil Rights Room contained a treasure trove of information about Lewis and the Civil Rights movement. In Nov. 1986 Lewis was elected to Congress and currently serves as US Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. He went to college in Nashville and after his arrest in 1960 he was involved with Freedom Rides and was severely beaten when he and Hosea Williams attempted to lead 600 marchers across the Edmond Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery. At 23, he joined Martin Luther King Jr. in the famous march on Washington when Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. He also delivered his own speech to the crowd of 200,000.
Black-and-white photos from that turbulent time hung on the library room’s walls, and a symbolic circle of stools with a time-line of events honoured the lunch counter sit-ins.Library-CivilRights One interesting fact that surprised me regarding school desegregation in the city was that eight of 19 black children who went to white schools transferred back to their former schools. I thought it would have been higher with all the nastiness that had been stirred up. Andrea Blackman, who is in charge of the room’s special collection, is also a teacher and facilitator and has worked with school groups, police and corporate groups to clear up assumptions and set the record straight. “This is the only space of its kind in the American library system,” she explained. No wonder Nashville Public Library was named Library of the Year last year.
Wrapping up my civil rights tour, I headed to the Frist Art Museum, housed in a former Post Office constructed in 1933. My eyes were drawn to a black- and-white photography exhibit of shots published in the liberal newspaper the Tennessean, and the conservative Nashville Banner during the desegregation years. The tension, fear and hatred in the pictures was palpable.CivilRights-FristGuns
We have come so far, but when I listen to the news today, it seems like some people are slipping back to a time when dehumanizing humans was normal.
What happened in Nashville in the 1960s changed America for the better, but there is still so much work to be done.
We shall overcome, but it won’t be easy.

Eating my Way Through Toronto’s Historic East End

Recently, I signed up for a culinary tour of Riverside, Corktown and the Canary district of Toronto’s east end.
BroadviewHotelBarCulinary Adventure Co. “Big Cheese” (aka owner) Kevin Durkee and his colleague Leo Moncel, city manager, Toronto, met our group at the Broadview Hotel in Riverside (Broadview and Queen Street East) where we took a gander at the rooftop bar,BroadviewRooftop copythen headed down to the cafe for a delicious plate of hot smoked salmon and cucumber salad with Easter egg heirloom radishes.BroadviewSalmonSaladThe salmon was flaked and the warmth went beautifuly with the cool, crisp cucumbers and radishes. Leo gave us the background on the hotel, and the area.
Back in the day, the east side of Toronto was populated by the working class because the winds here tend to be easterly and the gentry, who lived on the west side of the city, didn’t want to get a whiff of stockyards, tanneries and sundry industries. The Broadview was originally built by Dingman, a soap tycoon, for travelling salesmen.BroadviewPlaqueThe Broadview I remember was inhabited for 40 years by Jilly’s a notorious strip club.
As we walked, Kevin told me that Culinary Adventure Co. offers tours in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg year round and from June until end of September in Charlottetown, Kingston and Halifax.
“Sixty-five per cent of our business is local, celebrating the city or using gift certificates,” he noted. In Toronto’s east end their tours are usually either Riverside/Leslieville, or Corktown/Canary district tours but today, special for our little group they merged Riverside into the Corktown/Canary district tour. Kevin used to own a restaurant called Cheeseworks,at Bathurst and Niagara Street. The Culinary Adventure Co. was started by a couple who separated in 2013 and Kevin, tired of the restuurant business, bought it in 2014. “Good tastes better when you know where it comes from,” he explained.
On this tour they were covering…
1. History/background of establishment and area
2. Stories of team in kitchen.
3. Diversity – TO most diverse city on the planet.
“It’s a casual learning experience and great way to rediscover the city,” he noted. Why are we so obsessed with food today? “Because of the Food Network, Anthony Bourdain, and Instagram. There’s a real appreciation for taste of place.” The tours usually have a maximum of 12 people and cost around $80 per person.
Walking west on Queen Street from the Broadview Hotel, we went past the storefront that was the original Canadian Tire, then off to Merchants of Green Coffee.MerchantsofGreenExterior Standing out front of the two-story brick building overlooking the Don Valley Parkway, Leo held up a picture of Shirriff marmalade. “Remember this?” I did. Mom bought the stuff when I was a kid. “The Shirriff factory owner was from Scotland. He brought the marmalade recipe back and in 1909 built his plant here. The second floor is the Jam Factory event space,” explained Leo.
Inside, Megan Thibeault part-owner and marketer, gave us the scoop on importing green beans that were certified Free Trade and organic.MoGGirlRoasting “We buy from a collective in Honduras. We helped them get financing from the International Development Bank. Now the collective members have a sustainable livelihood, plus this kind of crop helps to save the rain forest.” She told us the company’s two founders, Derek Zavislake and his brother Brad, are environmentalists with three bottom lines – profits, people & the environment. For our coffee tasting, the first step was to roast the beans in a mini roaster, similar to a hot air popcorn maker. “Once roasted it lasts seven days before becoming bitter. You want it lively and sweet and still containing antioxidants. It’s hard to find fresh roasted beans,” she explained. We watched the beans turn from green to brown, going through “1st crack” when it starts to roast and the the chaf comes off, and “2nd crack” the sugar inside the beans gives it a sweet taste and it becomes caramelized. MoGPouringCoffee copyThen it steeped and was filtered through an organic cotton hemp filter. I had a small sip, without milk, and found the flavour to be intense, with a spike of sharpness mellowing out with a soft sweetness in the finish. Who knew? If you can’t make it to the Riverside location, the beans are available at Rowe Farms.
Crossing over the Don River into Corktown, we came to the Dominion Pub and Kitchen, a gastro pub located at 500 Queen St. E.DominionHotelInterior Leo had gone ahead and was ready with some hearty comfort food including a tater tot, pulled pork poutine, a huge, freshly baked pretzel with grainy mustard and a flight of Henderson’s Best, a microbrew named after the 1st brewery in Toronto, plus Brickworks 1904 cider. “1904 was the year of Toronto’s second great fire, and much of downtown was destroyed,” said Leo. Delicate and apple-y, there was nothing hot or fiery about it.DominionHotelPoutineDomionHotelPretzel
It was time to take in a little street art in the Canary District at Underpass Park.UnderpassPark copy Tucked below Corktown at River Street and Eastern Ave., the underbelly of this section of the Gardiner Expressway is covered in colourful graffiti art, complete with mirrored ceiling.UnderpassPark3UnderpassPark4
“In the Canary District, a former industrial site, it took 10 years to clean the soil before they could build the Athletes Village during the Common Wealth games. This area was once home to one William Davies pork producers, one of the biggest abattoirs in the world at the time,” Leo told us.
What better time to taste some vegetarian delights?TabouleDips At Souk Tabule Middle Eastern Restaurant we munched on chef’s platter with labni (creamy garlic yogurt cheese), beet mutable (with tahini and lemon), muhamara (roasted red pepper and walnuts), babaganouj (eggplant and tahini), quinoi tabule and Arabic slaw. According to BlogTO, this chain (there are four) has the best falafels in city and I’d have to agree.TabouleFalafalBallsTabouleInterior Another dish that was over the top was arnabeet,TabuleCauliflower flash-fried cauliflower, drizzled with tahini. “The owner, chef Rony Goraichy is from Beirut. He came to the city as a student and worked at The Jerusalem restaurant. He became an actuary and got married to the boss, Diana Sideris,” Leo explained. In 2005, Goraichy traded his suit for chef’s whites and he and his wife opened the first location at Yonge Street and Eglinton Ave. The other two are in Riverside and Bayview Village Shopping Centre.
Our final stop was Roselle Desserts, a bakery at King and Parliament in Corktown. RoselleBananaFosterEclair“The owners, Bruce Lee and Stephanie Duong, got married a month ago,” Leo told us with a big grin. We tasted what the bakery is best known for, a Banana Fosters Éclair. OMG. Thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Loved this culinary adventure…and my waistline was glad there was so much walking involved.

Classic Cars on the Queensway

Blue1940sFord On the Queensway, in Toronto, Saturday night is for cruising…classic cars, that is. In the Canadian Tire parking lot near Sherway Gardens, the hot rods, rat rods, and vintage vehicles of all types start rolling in around five p.m. Owners buy a parking spot for $15 and the proceeds go to Darling House for Kids, a palliative care center for children. For spectators like myself, it’s free. Want to know a little bit more about the cars? The owners usually set up in folding chairs nearby. Some even sit in their vehicles. Others have print outs propped in the windshield outling the car’s provenance. I got there and started roaming around at 5:30 p.m. Just in time for magic hour to take a few shots. Love these cars!! Runs mid-May to early October.HerbieLoveBug1968Herbie the Love Bug!PinkCamero19681968 CamaroGMCTruck19491949 GMC truckGreenBuick19321932 BuickCorvair19661966 CorvairChevyNomadFire&Smoke19581958 Chevy NomadGreenFordGalxay19671967 Ford GalaxyBlack1950sLincoln1950s LincolnBarraccuda19671967 BarracudaGeneralLee1969Charger1969 General Lee ChargerBLueChevi19491949 ChevyOldRedChevy19301930 Chevy1923DurantStar1923 Durant StarMotoMysteryBikeMystery motorbike. I can just see Batman flying around on this rig.

What Makes Dunnville and Lake Erie a Summer Haven

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I have been renting a cottage on the north shore of Lake Erie near Dunnville for three years now. Why? It’s a summer haven often overlooked by Torontonians who are much more focused on traveling north. Lake Erie offers a whole different vibe from Muskoka or the Kawarthas since it is in the heart of farm country.LakeHorizon For a long time it was known as a working-class getaway, often for folks from the other side of the border. There’s a casual feel to the area, the Dunnville Farmers market is fantastic, with produce often picked that morning.Muddy:SteveYou know you are in Dunnville when you encounter Muddy, the 50-foot catfish and town mascot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love heading to Knowles Diner for a bacon and egg breakfast. It’s very old timey, the menu is basic and service can be slow, but dig that original decor! (Shots by Stephen Plunkett) SteveSharkyAfterwards we check out the town’s quirky shops. This odd-ball place bills itself as “The Only Place on Earth.” Need a stuffed shark? This is your go-to store. For dinner, at Queen’s Hotel there are no dorsal fins on the menu, but you can get a fresh plate of perch, caught nearby.MoQueensHotel OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr go to Hippo’s, (these shots were taken by Stephen Plunkett) at the Mohawk Marina in nearby Lowbanks for an open-air, lakeside meal of the yummy little fish. TurkeyCar2There are also a number of turkey producers in the area and you can get fantastic frozen turkeys (whole, or pieces) at great prices at Lakeview Farms retail outlet. For dessert, load up on blueberries at OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlueberry Knoll Berry Farm, just outside of Dunnville. TwistedLemonSignWhen it is time to return home to the big smoke, as a treat, we often stop at the lovely Twisted Lemon restaurant in Cayuga, Ont.TwistedLemonClub The club sandwich there is to die for!

Omni King Edward Hotel Serves up a Menu fit for TIFF Royalty

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Sipping champers in the Consort Bar at the Omni King Edward Hotel. How TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) can you get? The hotel recently put on a press preview of its pop-up Moet & Chandon Champagne/Hennessy Cognac inspired menu, running through to the end of TIFF (Sept. 6- 16).SteveMoLighterHeritageBottlesLighterBoy, were my husband and I treated like royalty. Although there were a few items for my tax bracket included on the menu, I could tell they were really hoping to land movie industry whales with the big ticket offerings such as the Royal 75, a cocktail of Hennessy Paradis Imperial, citrus cordial, fresh lemon juice, and Dom Perignon, garnished with a lemon twist. Price? $500. Or if that’s a bit rich, you could just order an once of the Hennessy Paradis Imperial for $340. Needless to say, these weren’t on offer at the preview.UnconventionalLoveBut this was, The Unconventional Love cocktail with Moet & Chandon Imperial Rose, Belvedere Vodka, coconut water and muddled raspberries ($35).RoyalBurgerDo you like gold flakes with your burger? Try the Royal Burger with wagyu beef, Hennessy caramelized onions, shaved fresh truffles, black garlic aioli, Ontario heritage cheddar paired on a brioche bun topped with gold flakes. Can’t forget the truffle parmesan hand cut fries…all for a mere $149! (This one was for photos only.)
Here’s what else they served…Smoked Fiore de LatteSmoked Fiore de Latte, a lovely plate of herbed migas, heirloom tomato, tomato gel and rooftop garden pesto ($20).Yuzu Seared TunaYuzu seared tuna with citrus compressed watermelon, Acadian sturgeon caviar, avocado cream and crisp bread ($45).RoyalBugerMiniLuckily they gave us the mini version of the Royal Burger, since one on the menu was the size of my head.DuckCreme bruleeFree-form duck egg crème brulée ($15).ChefLighterChef gave us a little run down of his creative process.DianaLighterGetting the champagne/cognac story.QueenPaintingLighterI think she would approve.

My Fave Old Timey Toronto Diner

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I had been meaning to go there for years. Not, of course, when it opened in 1932. But close enough. Finally got to Lakeview Restaurant recently and loved it!! This “Always Open” establishment got its 24/7 groove on when, during World War Two, the owners realized a clientele opportunity – shift workers from the nearby Massey Ferguson factory who would nip over for a 3 a.m. dinner.LakeviewEntrance copy LakeviewCounter2 copyLakeviewBankettes copy
LV_Menu_BS_11.07.17The comfort food menu is extensive. LakeviewGrilledCheese copyI opted for the grilled cheese Fromage a Trois with asiago, cheddar and havarti. It came with a delicious side salad of dark greens with sunflower seeds, but I was told I could have both fries and salad if I wished…along with delicious chipotle mayo! Heavenly. LakeviewPhillyCheese copyMy husband opted for the Philly Cheesesteak with shaved sirloin, bell pepper, carmelized onions, melted havarti and BBQ sauce on a brioche bun. Delcious, I was told. Plus, every day there are drink specials, including $4 wine. Wow.Apparently there was a secret code word that would bring you an extra portion of a certain pork product. We had enough on our plates as it was, so will try that next time.LakeviewMoviePhotos copyOn my way to the washroom, I passed the hall of fame with photos of the many movies that have used this terrific diner as a set location – Hairspray, Boondocks, Take this Waltz, Cocktail and most recently The Shape of Water. LakeviewKitchenEntrance copyEating here, in the land that time forgot, I really did feel like I could have been in a movie. Love that.

Camping out in Toronto

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I had no idea Toronto had an urban campground. Located in the Rouge Valley on the very eastern edge of the city, it’s called Glen Rouge and has 124 campsites (87 serviced for RVs, 27 unserviced, five for backpackers, and five oTENTiks). CampRVs copyAlthough there are busy roads nearby, at the far end of the campground all you hear are the leaves rustling and the birds singing. CampRougeRiver copyCampTrail copyIt’s on the Rouge River and there are great trails you can follow into the nearby woods. CampoTENTik2 copyI was most impressed with the oTENTiks. They have a canvas roof and are perched on a wooden platform — and they sleep six! Great for families, and inclement weather. CampSwingsWashroom copyThere’s a washroom and shower building up the hill from the campsites, and a few swings. The whole set up is rather basic, but that’s the beauty of it. Once you get to the far end of the campground and the quiet settles in, you’d never know you were on the eastern edge of a bustling metropolis.
Prices are competitive:
Per Night
Backpacker site – $28
Unserviced site – $33
Serviced site (30AMP) – $40.50
Serviced site (50AMP) – $43.50
oTENTik -$106.20
Monthly rates are available as well.