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Cokebaby and I went to see Doubt: A Parable at the Neptune Theatre this weekend. It was a fantastic show, well-acted, and with a really cool stage design. The play was wonderful and I’m looking forward to checking out the film when it comes out on DVD.

Now, I don’t consider myself a hoighty-toighty kind of person even if I have, in fact, been to the opera. TWICE. Three times if you include the 10 minutes Measha Brueggergosman performed at the Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo one year. But that’s besides the point.

I was floored by the astounding number of people who had no clue about theatre etiquette. To be honest, I think many of these people thought they were going to see Doubt in the movie theatre rather than, you know, the theatre theatre.

For those people who are wondering, here are some clues to help figure out the difference:

  • were you handed 3D glasses at the door?
  • are the floors sticky?
  • were there movie ads playing while you wait for the lights to dim?

If you answered no to any of the above, then you’re actually in a theatre with live actors. Yes, this would explain how “real” the experience is in the absence of those 3D glasses.

So, now that we’ve established that you’re in a theatre for plays, here are some tips on etiquette:

Just because someone in the house coughs does not give you license to do the same. That goes for the next person, and the person after that, and so forth. In fact, try to stifle your cough. And if you’ve got a dry heaving cough that you haven’t been able to get rid of for days, you’re better off seeing a doctor about it than attending the play at all.

If someone does happen to cough this should not also be considered the prime opportunity to open your box of candies, bottle of pop, or packets of gum.

For that matter, you should keep your food products and resultant belching in until you’re back at home or in another suitable environment.

And bathroom breaks? In most cities you’re not permitted to leave until intermission unless you’ve got some kind of personal emergency. Once those lights dim, consider yourself in prison lock-down. Come on, it’s only an hour and a half people. Plan your bowel movements like the rest of us and use the facilities beforehand.

And for goodness sake, don’t snap your gum throughout the performance (or ever, really but in this scenario in particular) or try to take notes (!) on loose leaf paper.

No word of a lie, all of these things happened to the point of distraction. And if I was hearing it, how do you think the actors were feeling? Yes, maybe they’re trained to ignore it all. But frankly, you weren’t invited to watch your friend perform in your living room. You and I paid money to see and hear a live play, not the sounds we’re most accustomed to hearing in a dining room.

Kthxby.

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Cool, look what I found!

Cool, look what I found!

So, it’s March already.

The holiday season is far behind us unless you include March break or St. Patrick’s day. If we’re being honest, those are not so much seasons as excuses to drink though.

But I digress.

Cokebaby and I did a bit of furniture rearranging recently in order to prepare for refinishing our hardwood floors. Upon moving our sofa we unearthed a holiday themed dog toy that Tofu could care less for back in December but which he now drags around like it’s his best, long-lost friend. For more, check out my post on the dog blog today.

Let’s be honest. Some of the boutiques in downtown Halifax (as in other cities) are intimidating. Online shops have been appealing to me lately because a) I don’t have a lot of free time and b) I want to look at my options on my own time without someone shadowing my every move.

An added benefit of shopping online is not having to deal with snobby shop girls. Having worked in clothing retail, at upscale locations like Hazelton Lanes in Toronto, I can make this statement without impunity. Granted, some of the clientèle were equally as snobby (please, don’t get me started). And really, if I’m going to be spending my money on anything, I don’t need to feel like I have to bring in my pedigree papers just to get through the front doors.

By DKNY

By DKNY

Back in December I discovered Bluefly which dubs itself “the ultimate hookup for the fashion obsessed.” Now, that’s not exactly me but I’d been searching for the perfect winter coat to replace an almost decade old one that I finally had to admit was outdated. So, here’s what I’ve got to say about the online shopping experience so far:

I caught a Boxing Day sale and was very excited to save a whopping 57% off retail value. Since it was my first order with them I found a promotional code that covered the shipping cost too. Then, recently there was a President’s Day sale at Bluefly and Cokebaby treated me to two tops and a dress as a Valentine’s gift (yes, I know, I’m a very lucky girl and he’s a very sweet boy). Both shipments arrived at my doorstep in under a week and were everything I was hoping for.

Even though we paid a fraction of the retail price, once the $30 shipping and then brokerage fees are factored in, the savings aren’t what you see at face value. At least not within Canada. You’re still getting good quality designer brands for about half the cost but I’m going to have to shop around to see if this is really the best value for my dollar. Not that I shop that much anyway but I like to feel that my dollar is going as far as it can for what I’m buying.

On a side note, an interesting tool they have on the site is an online shop assistant. If you’re ogling a piece of merchandise for too long a little pop-up box appears asking if you require assistance. For those who are intimidated by technology this is a very helpful tool. It’s also nice to know that if I ever have a question there’s help just a click away. Plus, unlike real shop girls she won’t judge me for slumming it in my regular clothes (or, more likely, my pyjamas).

Overall, I’m not totally convinced that smaller items are worth it unless you buy a number of items together. However, for big ticket pieces like my winter coat, I think for the quality it’s a bargain compared to what I might have paid otherwise.

Have you shopped for clothes online before? If so, what’s your experience been?

[Next week, as a special treat, I’ll be having fashion & style week on East Coast By Choice. A few lovely bloggers have agreed to post about their views on style (or lack thereof). Check back from March 2-6 to see what East Coasters have to say about the topic.]

Remember the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is daydreaming about the land of chocolate? Well, that was me in the south of France only it was with foie gras. Um, wait a second. That sounds kind of gross on a lot of levels. Well, even though I only had it twice in the nine days we were in France, it was equally as glorious as it was horrendous. But, like they say, when in Rome do like…Hedonismbot.

Here are some gastronomical highlights from the trip:

cwbuecheler from Flickr

Photo credit: cwbuecheler from Flickr

Picnics—By far, our favourite thing to do when travelling in Europe is checking out the fresh local produce and putting together meals to go. In Nice, we frequented the Cours Saleya Market & Monoprix, while in Avignon we enjoyed the offerings at Les Halles & 8 à Huit. Things we looked for included sundried tomatoes, olives Niçoise or en herbes de Provence, fresh baked bread, and, of course, fabulous cheeses. Whatever you do in France, if there’s an open display of cheeses that aren’t pre-packaged, for goodness sake don’t touch anything. In Paris, Cokebaby got his hand slapped for reaching out. Just remember, cheese is like a religion here. Don’t sully the alter. There are also plenty of pâtisseries and chocolatiers to go around for dessert.

Wines of the region are rosé and Côtes du Rhône which you can purchase for incredibly reasonable prices. Even champagne is dirt cheap here. For special treats we tried Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (a sweet fortified wine) and pastis (an anise-flavoured liqueur usually served on ice with a pitcher of water that you can use to cut it to your liking). In Nice, we found a great wine shop called Côté Vin where the young shopkeep was keen to speak English and gave us some great recommendations for local (and organic) wines of the region without an ounce of pretension.

Le Atmosphere (Nice)—On opera night, we tried finding a recommended restaurant called Chez Palmyre. Finding no signs of life there on that night (or any other) we wound up on the very touristy Cours Saleya Strip where we were reeled in by an employee. Yes, yes, tourist trap antics. But we were running late and it was literally a two minute walk from the opera house. We went with the formule which got us a starter, main, and dessert for 13,50€. Each of us had a fish soup (served with croutons and rouille), grilled sword fish with roasted vegetables in rice. For dessert I had a creme caramel while Cokebaby opted for chocolate mousse. For the price, service, and quality of food we weren’t disappointed.

Maison Nani (Avignon)—We kind of hit the jackpot with this little gem of a restaurant. The atmosphere is warm and homey, the service impeccable, and the food was everything we wanted it to be (and then some).  On our first day, we arrived close to the end of lunch service so we missed out on the specials but after our meal we vowed to come back early to check them out. Both days the place was filled with locals and the owners were around greeting everyone personally. Our meals ranged around 8-12€ and you could purchase a 75cL Cotes du Rhone wine for about 4€. The wine came in unmarked bottles that brought the term house wine to new meaning but who can argue for the value? I indulged in a foie gras salad served with toast. Simple but delicious. For dessert I couldn’t resist the café gourmand: a cup of espresso with a sampling of Chantilly cream, a cake that tasted like homemade Ferrero Rocher, crème anglaise, and a raspberry crumble for under 4€. On the next visit, I was very happy to get the special tart of the day made with broccoli, onions and olives, with a side salad, and vegetables (potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard fennel, lightly salted and boiled string beans).

jenny downing from Flickr

Photo credit: jenny downing from Flickr

O’Neill’s (Avignon)—At supper time many of the restaurants along the main strip were closed, we assumed, due to it being low season. Back alleys turned up international cuisine for very reasonable prices. It probably would have made some sense to have Chinese food for the lunar new year but, frankly, we didn’t come to France for the Chinese food. So, we stopped in at O’Neill’s Irish pub. Um, yeah, that didn’t make much sense, right? The thing is they had a bunch of French items on the menu. While Cokebaby enjoyed his pizza Alsace (ham, olives, mushrooms and Emmenthal) and pint of Kronenbourg blanc, I was happy to receive the yummiest (and biggest) salade Niçoise with a goblet full of vin chaud (aka Glögg or mulled wine).

Le Courtois Café/Pâtisseries (Nîmes)—A family-run business since 1892, this gorgeous spot is situated in the same courtyard as a palm-tree and crocodile fountain (the city’s emblem). The dining room had crammed seating but elegant Old World decor. Cokebaby and I felt like the veritable bulls in a china shop and if the weather had been a bit warmer we probably would have enjoyed the experience more on the patio. That said, the food was delicious and the service both pleasant and efficient. This was my second and last foie gras salad. Not quite as delicious as the first but it came with a tasty side of scalloped potatoes. Cokebaby’s poulet Basquaise (chicken served in a clay pot with peppers and smoky spices) was not the most memorable meal but he enjoyed it nonetheless. On the way out we passed the display case of pastries and, although incredibly tempting (and probably where they excelled in terms of food), we passed them up in order to move on to the sites of the city.

Restaurant du Gesù (Nice)—This was a quaint little Italian restaurant situated at a cobblestone square across from a church. We opted to dine outside in the enclosed patio next to a heat lamp. The food here was simplicity at its best. We shared plates of gnocchi (potato pasta) with Gorgonzola, and ravioli with pistou (basically, pesto without the pine nuts). On the blackboard they had featured a wine of the month which we tried out for 14€ (this time it came in a corked and labelled bottle). By the time we were served our meal the place was packed with locals and students.

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Our last day in Nice was spent trying to cram in as much food and drink into our faces before we had to fly back. We had croissants, café crème, wine, cheese, beer, pastries, and more. By the end of the night I was wholly and truly satisfied that I could indulge no more. Thankfully, vacations do have to come to an end sometimes. Otherwise, I’d be the size of an elephant. That or I’d have to take up smoking as an appetite suppressant which I’m convinced is the only way everyone stays so thin in France. Kidding..!

Sean Munson from Flickr

Photo credit: Sean Munson from Flickr

One of the worst things you can do on a trip is tempt fate. Case in point: on our train ride to Avignon I noticed an entry in our guidebook that talked about Le Mistral winds in southern France. Living in Halifax, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that rain falls sideways, that umbrellas must be purchased seasonally, and that good hair days are when you don’t have to leave the house.

So, reading about how the south of France—which until that point had been giving us temperatures of around 13 degrees—could even remotely compare to the wind tunnels of downtown Halifax, gave us a good laugh.

Well, that was a mistake.

Mother Nature does not like to be taken lightly. She’s kind of like that mean popular girl in high school who’s all fake-nice to the people she thinks “matter” but will claw your eyes out if you mess with her in any way. As a result of overhearing our snide remarks, Mother Nature unleashed Le Mistral upon us in the same way.

Although we didn’t hear about it until days later, apparently we were arriving during the end of one of the worst storms to hit the region in a decade. As a matter of fact, the name Avignon derives from the Roman word avenio meaning “town of violent winds.” That turned out to be a fact we didn’t find out about until our second day in the quaint little town.

We found ourselves shivering in a bus shelter outside the train station, as cold torrential rain poured down. When we boarded the shuttle bus into town, as further evidence of why one should never mess with Mother Nature, a woman sat in front of me who couldn’t have wanted to be more Amy Winehouse if she was Amy Winehouse: crazily styled hair amassed atop her head and in the process of layering makeup upon her skin. The only reason I could be sure she wasn’t the real deal was because the real Amy Winehouse was probably in rehab or maybe doped up and sprawled out on a bathroom floor somewhere (I still was having problems figuring out what time it would be back home let alone in the UK. Not that there’s really an acceptable time to be doing blow).

It turned out that our hotel, the Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, was only a few short steps away from the train station. All our cold little worries melted away once we arrived. I must admit that we splurged a little here to stay in a charming 4-star hotel that was formerly a monastery and recently converted to a hotel that housed very modern rooms. Our room had a bathroom on one level and a bedroom overlooking a grassy courtyard.

Because we’re troopers and didn’t want a little bit of foul weather to ruin a perfectly good vacation to Provence, we decided to grab a bite to eat at a local bistro before visiting the Palais des Papes. This is what the UNESCO World Heritage Site has to say about the historic site:

In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th-century Christian Europe.

If you’re any sort of a history buff, you’ll know that seeing this in real life just made our day. One of the great things about the little town of violent winds is that so many of the locals were amazingly friendly and let me struggle along in French. I think it amused them but it gave me the much needed practise that I was hoping for.

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

At the local market in Les Halles, we bought some Brie from a vendor who was so excited about his city and the fact that we were staying at the Cloître Saint Louis that he basically gave us a real life audio guide of tips on the best views of the city, particularly from the rooftop of the nearby church.

The next day we went to the Pont Saint Bénezet (of the Sur le pont d’Avignon song) where, although sunny and beautiful, we learned the true meaning behind the town’s name. Fun fact: back in the day, a couple of priests were blown off the bridge into the frigid water below. To console them, the pope sent them his personal physician and…some money. Because nothing eases pain more than cold hard cash.

Sadly, shopping in Avignon consisted of window browsing (apparently the French version of this phrase translates roughly to window licking). Even with 50% discounts, most prices came out to the same original price in Canadian dollars. So much for Soldes d’hiver 2009.

Next up this week: Gladiators! Bull fights! And national train strikes!

I’m not by any means a culture vulture. At least by some standards. Sure, I like watching some indie or foreign films, am passionate about world food and wines, listen to a wide variety of music, and am fairly well travelled. That all being said, when it comes to things like ballet or opera performances my experience is pretty limited. By that I mean mostly through secondary school field trips. (For the record that’s a long time ago).

It’s not that I don’t enjoy these types of cultural experiences. It’s mostly because a good deal of my adult (and therefore able to afford things) life has been spent in a small city. Frankly, since moving here it seems to me that the options are fairly limited and I’m not about to repeat the brutally uncomfortable experience at the Halifax Metro Centre when we went to see the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo with Cokebaby’s family and accidentally heard some beautiful opera performed by Measha Brueggergosman.

In fact, outside of that experience, one of the few others I’ve had with opera is through a very small collection at home that includes safe bets like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. However, on our trip to Italy last year we made it to The Barber of Seville at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and were so amazed that we wanted to repeat the experience. It was an opulent opera house and overall wonderful performance which I enjoyed immensely despite undergoing the early stages of a sinus infection that would make the flight home almost unbearable.

At the market

At the Cours Saleya Market

This is all to say that we had some high expectations of the Opera de Nice on our recent trip to southern France. So, on our first day on vacation we took in a day of walking around Old Nice, stopping by the opera house to find out that all the main tickets were sold out and that we’d have to come back at 16:30 (not 6:30 as I almost made the mistake) to purchase last minute tickets in the upper tier. It was to be expected so instead of being disappointed we spent the rest of the morning touring through the market stands where we picked up some souvenirs and the best sun-dried tomatoes ever made.

Eventually we made it back to the opera house where I’m pretty sure I asked the ticket agent in French if he wanted two seats at the opera. To his credit he didn’t laugh at me and continued to converse in French without switching to English. As the assigned seating was sold out he lamented that the only tickets available presented poor to no visibility. But they were also only 8€ each.

From where we were seated we could see only part of the stage and that was only when standing. Although there was an overhead with captions to follow, that too was half obscured. It seemed that I understand all but every fifth word but it also seemed that every fifth word was the most important.

The opera itself was one that we’d not heard of: Les Contes d’Hoffman. Not Le Comte Hoffman as we originally thought while listening to the performance. A somewhat important distinction. You see, one of the main characters sounded like he was the Count from Sesame Street and every time he entered the stage with that distinctive laugh I thought we were about to get a lesson in French numbers (which actually would have at least been educational in some way). The unmistakable laugh only further confused my understanding of what was going on because I naturally assumed he was “Count” Hoffman when, in fact, he was actually the “nemesis” Lindorf.

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

Then, at some point—no word of a lie—a giant baby’s head emerged on the stage. For a little while it was all we could look at. We were transfixed and beyond perplexed and losing the plot line with every passing second that we weren’t paying close attention to the words or overhead.

That’s when it got really weird. A bald-headed robotic woman sprang out of the head. All bets were off at that point. It felt like we were watching a live-action episode of The Simpsons. I imagined Lenny and Carl standing by the enormous tête asking, “Ain’t you never seen a bald chick leap out of a giant head before?”

Even after the automaton proceeded to sing the very beautiful aria, Les Oiseaux Dans La Charmille, we couldn’t put the oddness out of our minds. Yet we persevered.

Then, the stage was flooded with identical blind couples tapping their way with white canes across the stage. By the time Act II came along Cokebaby and I were entirely lost.

Apparently there was an Act III but we never saw it.

For us, the opera didn’t end when the fact lady sang. In fact, there was no fat lady at all. And maybe in the absence of one, it ends when the bald chick leaps out of the giant head. I’ll have to test that theory out on our next operatic excursion.

A typical Air Canada flight

A typical Air Canada flight

I know you’re all probably thinking that this is a post about the trip itself and all the food, wine, sites, and wonderful weather that was had. Well, that’s not what this post is about. No, we had to try and get to our destination first. And by try, I mean, battle it out against Mother Nature, time zones, Air Canada, and a possible gremlin. Here is our story:

3:54 p.m. AT: We arrive at Halifax International Airport as light snow begins to fall. Having checked in electronically online the night before, we simply pass our bags in to an Air Canada attendant and head over to the departures section.

4:01 p.m.: With limited options we decide to have dinner at the Molson Ale House. Perhaps as a bon voyage reminder of the good food to come, we are promptly served the most mediocre bar food we’ve ever tasted alongside a glass of beer that is the size of my dachshund.

4:52 p.m.: We are screened through security by the friendliest people in Halifax. I immediately suspect something is up. In the departure lounge, we watch snow accumulate on the wings of our plane. Cokebaby develops a sudden headache and self-medicates with coffee. It does not help.

5:45 p.m.: We board the plane. On board, the stress accumulates at a rate that grows exponentially in relation to the amount of snow that is falling. Although our original direct flight to London would not have left for another several hours, that flight was cancelled and we were forced to take this earlier flight in order to make a connection in Montreal. The connection time upon arrival there is a mere 50 minutes. With every moment we are delayed, we are eating into that connection time.

6:10 p.m.: The captain announces we will be slightly delayed due to waiting for passengers on a connecting flight from Sydney. We quietly curse them.

6:20 p.m.: Five minutes late from departure time, the delayed passengers finally board the plane which is sent to de-ice for what seems like an eternity.

6:35 p.m.: We finally depart. Our stress does not.

7:15 p.m. ET: We land safely in Montreal but our connection is scheduled to leave in 25 minutes. A flight attendant assures us that connections “usually wait” for passengers. That does not sound reassuring.

7:17 p.m.: The chief steward announces that passengers with connections to Fort Lauderdale, Paris, and London (us) should deplane first. Everyone and their sister piles into the aisles. By this point, Cokebaby’s head is about to explode.

7:21 p.m.: We are guided to gate by an Air Canada employee and make it to the plane with 10 minutes to spare.

On board we don’t even care about the snarky Francophone staff who are inexplicably rude to Anglophones considering the flight is going to London (England) where the primary language is, well, English. We’re just glad that we’re finally on our way to Europe.

9:57 p.m.: At least that’s what time I think it is because by this point we’re probably flying over Halifax again where the time would now be 1-hour ahead of Montreal.

As promised, approximately an hour and a half into the flight, we are served a small meal. This is the part of the flight I always look forward to because I’ve listed myself as requiring an Asian vegetarian meal. In the past I’ve had things like couscous salads, hummus sandwiches (I’m honestly not sure how that’s Asian either but it was tasty), and Channa Masala. So, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when the flight attendant rolled over with her little cart and had to explain to me that not only did my special meal not make it to the plane but that in the future I should call ahead at least 24 hours.

Excuse me? You mean I should pick up the phone while on vacation to stay on hold for who knows how long just so I can say, what? “Hello. Yeah, I’m just calling to confirm that you’re going to do your job in the next day or so?”

The following choices are then offered to me: chicken or beef. Seriously. Thankfully she had the good sense to say she’d check in first class to see if there is a vegetarian option. There is. And it was a spicy roasted vegetable pasta dish with chewy globs of half-melted cheese. Did I mention this is what they were serving in first class? It was even served on a real plate.

The time is now…What time is it over the Atlantic? Atlantic time?

Having lost track of time, the rest of the voyage is spent dozing in and out of sleep. A much needed sleep. At one point, I look out into the pitch black of night. The plane’s wing by my window seat is only briefly lit by a blinking red light.

For future reference, this scenario is not the time to be thinking of the episode of Twilight Zone with the gremlin. As a child, that episode scared the bejesus out of me. However, I think back and believe that William Shatner was in that episode so that makes it more funny than scary. But then I second guess myself. Or was it Charleton Heston in which case it makes it the reverse?

7-ish a.m. GMT: Breakfast is a cold muffin with a side of bitter caffeine and aspertane-filled yogurt. I note that the Dairyland creamer is labelled “creamo.” This point becomes inexplicably funny to me as I imagine a cartoon character named “El Creamo.” Clearly, the crazy from lack of sleep is starting to set in.

Time?: In London we play the waiting game. We have arrived with something like five hours before we board our connection. At this point I’m so tired I feel sick. But we have to wait it out for at least two hours before checking in to the departures section. We have coffee at Costa Coffee (basically a British Starbucks). The wi-fi connectivity confounds us.

Some time later Cokebaby forces a couple sips of some energy drink down my gullet. Rocker or Superstar or some other marketing genius offered up by Big Guarana. As a result, I almost spew the contents of the last 12+ (?) hours.

When we finally check in we wade our way through the high end shops and find a place called Giraffe Restaurant. Think Disney Theme Park restaurant integrating The Lion King with Putumayo World Music in real life. Had a veggie breakfast including sausages that tasted like they were made out of stuffing.

12:20 p.m.: We board the plane to Nice.

3-ish p.m. CET: We check in to our hotel where I promptly try to take a bath in the world’s smallest bath tub. Failing this task, I shower and manage to get sprayed in eye by a malfunctioning shower head.

4-ish p.m.: We stroll the main strip and pick up a picnic dinner from the local Monoprix including olives, cheese, sliced meat, bread, and champagne.

6-ish p.m.: Censored. Hey, we were there to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

1-ish a.m.: I wake up to the sounds of people seemingly rather close at hand and realize that the walls are paper thin.

[Next up this week: find out whether or not we enjoyed the rest of our trip.]

(Spoiler alert: we totally did.)

Chillaxin' at his godparents' cottage while on vacation last year

Chillaxin' at his godparents' cottage while on vacation last year

So, Cokebaby and I will be on a plane to France this evening. Where does that leave Tofu you might ask? Well, he’s on vacation too. This time with a friend who would like to get a dog of her own.

I left her with a detailed note to help her through the 10 days. Check it out on the dog blog.

Veggie Plate

Veggie Plate

A short while ago we checked out SnauBar Lebanese Cuisine to celebrate the new job of Cokebaby’s brother.

The restaurant is located in the Dresden Row mall (the one with Pete’s Frootique). Originally, there were rumours that a second location of Kababji was going to open up in the spot but I guess plans fell through.

SnauBar, pronounced snowbar, means pine (according to my Lebanese in-law who was with us that night). The name itself is a fun play on the word and the greenish mosaic tiled back-splash behind bar emphasizes it. The interior is elegant enough with pretty murals in archways along the walls. However, there’s something about the stark white of just about everything else that made the place seem kind of sterile. It certainly doesn’t have the the same luxe feel of Mezza Restaurant but I’m in a fight with that particular establishment right now.

We were the only people in the place and, in a way, it was fortunate for us as the server was not exactly on his game. That said, he was pleasant and had the legitimate excuse that he had only been working there for a few days. While there were ample choices for cold and hot mezza to share we decided to start with appetizers for the group of six and then move on to individual main courses. (As a side note, the website boasts “Mezza & Arrak Tuesdays” but there was no sign of what that meant when we arrived. And, yes, it was Tuesday.)

For drinks, I started with the  SnauBar-Tini (Pears vodka, white cranberry juice & lime cordial) followed by a glass of Villa Mura Valpollicello with the meal. The martini was very yummy while the wine was pretty mediocre and, in retrospect, a glass of white would have gone down better with the meal.

For appetizers we shared: chicken livers (served with pomegranate molasses), kebbeh (cracked wheat and ground beef, stuffed with more meat, onions, and pinenuts), and frogs provincial (fried frog legs served with garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice). Prices ranged between $6-10 each.

It was all very tasty but the livers were a bit dry and the promise of pomegranate molasses was lost on our palates. It was a first for me in terms of the frog legs and I’d be willing to try them again. The idea that they’re anything like chicken is completely misleading though. While they have the texture of poultry, they’re actually moister, and the taste is quite mild.

The special on the menu is described as: “A homemade Lebanese meal. Prepared fresh daily.” What it fails to mention is that it’s just something off the menu, or at least it was in this case, rather than a special dish made by the chef for that day. Most of the in-laws went with the special which turned out to be chicken taouk (marinated chicken breast with garlic and Lebanese spices).

I opted for the veggie plate (grape leaves, veggie kebbe, falafel, and spinach fatayer) and Cokebaby had the lamb shawarma (grilled sliced lamb with garlic and shawarma sauce). I found the falafel a bit dry but otherwise everything else on the plate was devoured appreciatively.

All the mains were served with the choices of rice or potatoes, AND tabbouleh or fattoush salads, AND hummus (chickpea dip) or baba ganouj (roast eggplant dip). Prices ranged between $14-19 each. The meal was delicious and quite filling. Everything was also clearly fresh made. Another bonus is that most of their produce is organic.

Overall, while SnauBar isn’t quite the upscale restaurant that it seems to want to be (and they could have been a bit more generous with the pita bread), the food is tasty and reasonably priced for a nice meal out. Each couple spent between $50-70 before tip and that included at least one alcoholic beverage each.

Compared with Mezza Restaurant the food is about equal but the atmosphere isn’t quite as upscale or warm. However, it does win points for the service which is at least passable and friendly, and the food made it to the table without an arduous wait which is more than I can say for my previous experiences with Mezza. Did I mention that I’m not happy with the level of service at Mezza?

Simon Pais-Thomas

Photo credit: Simon Pais-Thomas

In what seems like another life, I used to be quite the fashionista. During my early years of university I worked at a variety of retail clothing stores, from Le Chateau to Club Monaco to the Gap and finally Boutique Jacob. Because of my flare for style back then, I even got a gig as a merchandiser, a job that involved dressing up mannequins and display boards. It was like playing doll.

I became a clothes hog. Every paycheque went toward buying some new item to feed my addiction.

But eventually the reality of a career and life kicked in. No disrespect to the folks who make and earn a living as sales associates and retail store managers, but I needed to move on. I had to find “real work” where I could write and do the things that interested me most which meant no more beloved discounts (up to 50%!).

As the years went by, my wardrobe dwindled. I had to choose more carefully clothes that would outlast one season’s trends. Then, I decided to go back to school as a full-time mature student. There I fell into a wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts.

But it was worth it in the end. Though I may look shabby, today I’m in a dream job making good money to do what I love most: writing, reading, and interacting. It also means I’m finally back in the financial position to buy nice clothes.

Alas, here is my dilemma. I am now out of the fashion loop.

Since declaring I would not buy a fashion magazine because of the industry’s flagrant disregard for the environment, I have been mostly without a clue. There are days where I manage to look stylish but then there are other days where I feel that I may be a fashion train wreck.

In eight sleeps time, Cokebaby and I will be travelling to the south of France for our (belated due to conflicting schedules) 10 year anniversary. Coincidentally, we’ll be there in the middle of soldes d’hiver, a massive nationwide sale.

So my question is: what to buy?!

This is a fashion 911 emergency. Someone please save me.

Is there something fun that should be in every girl’s wardrobe for the upcoming season? And what about Cokebaby? Or Tofu (I’m assuming there will be dog boutiques)?

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