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jbelluch from Flickr

Photo credit: jbelluch from Flickr

[I’m probably on a plane en route to Nice, France at the moment. But I scheduled this little travel related post to hopefully keep you entertained. Next week, I’ve got a special treat lined up for you with guest East Coast bloggers filling in for me while I get a little R&R. Until then, here’s a post about a travel experience during my youth that left me scarred musically.]

When I was growing up my family was all about the road trips. We saw most of Canada and the continental United States of America by car.

It was torture.

When we were younger, my sister and I went through the whole whiny “she’s brushing up against me” phase where we couldn’t even breathe the same air without there being some kind of issue. Then my sister had bouts of car sickness for a while that allowed her to sit up front with our parents. And even though that helped us get through our quibbling, it brought on another element of torture.

Here’s some non-numerical math to paint a picture for you:
Stench of vomit + heat – air conditioning + rolled up windows = a car full of nauseous unhappy campers.

Plus, we weren’t the kind of family that played car games. We had to maintain silence for the most part so our dad could “concentrate on driving.” The only thing that got us through our long trips were things like reading, writing, and music.

In high  school, I got my first Walkman which I happily brought along on our last family road trip to Quebec city. I only had a small collection of audio cassettes at the time but I didn’t want to have to listen to whatever lame talk radio station my father would invariably tune into. Of the collection that I brought I can only remember two, but they provided a life lesson about music that I have not since forgotten.

And that is: some music is timeless (e.g. the When Harry Met Sally… soundtrack as sung by Harry Connick, Jr.) while others are not to be repeated in an endless loop during an eight hour drive (i.e. Stone Temple Pilots’ album Purple).

To this day even groups that remind me of STP get under my skin. And whenever I hear one of their songs, I feel like my ears are bleeding. In fact, I don’t listen to the local radio stations on the off chance that they might play something by them. Well, that and I’m of the mind that too much pop music makes the brain explode…ella…ella…ella…Thanks Rihanna for making me shudder every time it rains.

So, there you have it. My musical tragedy. What kinds of things have you done that you’ve regretted while travelling?

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?

The scenic view from Fiesole

The scenic view from Fiesole

In April of 2008, Cokebaby and I travelled to Italy with his sister and her husband. While there we had a lovely dining experience at a place called Il Latino in Florence.

Each year for the holidays we traditionally have a “luxe” meal with our in-laws slash travel companions. This year we attempted to recreate the meal with the help of a couple bottles of wine that we received courtesy of the restaurateur of Il Latino himself.

Thanks to the international and high-end produce selections at Pete’s Frootique, we were able to find the ingredients required and we were able to bring the tastes of Tuscany right to our dining room table.

Now, I may be a foodie, but I’m not one for overcomplicated dishes that require fine knife skills, knowing how to use a double-boiler and juggling. In recent years I’ve found that the good folks at Epicurious.com have an excellent database of gourmet but fairly straightforward to prepare recipes. Coupled with Food Network shows, Cokebaby and I have been able to put together some yummy meals without breaking a sweat.

Here’s what we pulled together for our “luxe” dinner this year with recipe links (where applicable) included.

Antipasto

These items were served as sharing plates along with high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping:

Prosciutto
Bruschetta
Sliced tomatoes
Bocconcini
Marinated artichoke hearts
Olives stuffed with garlic

Primo
We couldn’t decide between the two dishes so we opted for two small portions of each:
Tuscan white bean soup
Wild boar ragu on penne pasta

Secondo
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine style steak). Here Cokebaby actually roasted prime rib in the oven using this recipe.

Contorno (side dish)
Roasted new potatoes (in the pan with the steak).

Dolce
Sparkling muscat wine
Chocolate hazelnut cake (we cheated and just bought this from Sobey’s Compliment brand)

Digestivo
Choice of Limoncello or Amaretto

We could barely move after the feast but it was a great night that brought back memories of a trip that seems so far off already.

What are some of your holiday traditions? Anything that encourages a New Year’s resolution to diet? I don’t know about you but most of the holidays involved eating in excess.

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