Jam-Packed Weekend

Now that it is officially summer, a lot of events are happening around the City of London. This past weekend in particular was super fun, but also super busy!

First, we celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks early on Friday with a group of some very dear friends. The morning was a bit worrisome because it had rained… and rained, and rained!  Luckily it ended up holding off just in time so we could go mini golfing at the Tin Cup!After we went for dinner at Beertown Public House where I had the Crispy Chicken Sandwich with a side of french fries and gravy. It was probably the best crispy chicken I’ve ever had, if I’m being honest – it was so flavourful and was crisped to perfection. The sandwich came on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, Gruyère, roasted garlic aïoli and pickled jalapeños (YUM!)

Where we were sitting was unfortunately too dark for photos, but I can tell you the food was delicious and I would highly recommend it if you’re having a hard time deciding on what to get!

After, most of us headed back to my apartment for drinks and boardgames. It was a great way to end the night! Everyone was too full for cake, so I sent everyone home with their slice. It was a very beautiful cake given to me by my boyfriend, and it was delicious too!

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On Saturday evening we headed out with our friends Lenny, Heather and Eric to check out the Appleseed Cider Festival – an event that celebrates Ontario Craft Cider producers and their cider products!I tried four different ciders, three were from KW Craft Cider in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. and the other was from the County Cider Company in Waupoos, Ont. The ones from KW Craft Cider were Cherrymint, Thai Ginger, and Canadian Shield Berries. The one I tried from County Cider Co. was called Feral.The Cherrymint cider was good, you could really taste the mint on the end notes. This cider was very tart – I would consider it to be a dry cider, but I’m not sure. All-in-all it was good, but I don’t know if I would buy it.

The Thai Ginger cider was very unique, but tasted great! You could really taste the hot green Thai chili peppers, but the taste was well-balanced out by the ginger spice. I sampled a chili pepper beer in Santa Fe, and the flavour and heat of the pepper were very overwhelming. This cider would be great on a hot day, especially if you’re looking for something to sip on.

The Canadian Shield Berries cider was delicious! It tasted like… sparkly juice! (If sparkly juice were a thing and had a flavour haha). You could taste the tartness of the currants and cranberries, but also the sweetness of the raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. I normally am cautious of ‘strawberry’ flavours, as I find they can come out too strongly for my liking. There’s nothing wrong with strawberry, it’s just not my preference!

The Feral cider was by far my most favourite. It’s a combination of County Cider Co.’s Waupoos Premium cider – an off-dry cider with tangy apple flavour – and wild raspberries and cranberries. I’m a big fan of cranberry juice, and so I was pleased when I could really taste the cranberry at the beginning and then the raspberry at the end. I think I will be calling in an order, since Feral is not sold in LCBO stores!

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On Sunday afternoon we checked out the International Food Festival in Victoria Park.We got there at a really great time, and there was tons of food to choose from. I went with a beef and lamb gyro from Sammy’s Souvlaki.I forgot to take a photo before digging in… so worth it though! Mmm.

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You can tell that summer is finally here in Ontario – there is so much to do and see during this time of year. I look forward to sharing my summer adventures with you!

If you’re from Canada – what are you doing this Canada Day long weekend, and do you have any special plans for Canada 150?

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Mercer Hall and Balzac’s, Stratford

After seeing Guys and Dolls, we decided to go out for dinner at Mercer Hall.We had been here once before with a group of friends, the same ones that we went to Keystone Alley with, actually! This time it was really nice to go out as just the two of us and discovering more of what Mercer Hall had to offer.

When we walked in to the restaurant, we were immediately greeted by the host as well as the big sign behind the bar that had the featured beer… Flying Monkeys’ ’12 Minutes to Destiny’ – a hibiscus pale lager that has a delicious deep purple, ruby-like colour. I’m sure you can guess what we had to drink!It was delicious, fruity and crisp. It wasn’t too hoppy, bitter or sweet, it really is a perfect summer beer – I love drinking something that tastes great and refreshing.

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In terms of the menu, there is SO much to choose from; it can be overwhelming to the eyes, and the palate… I had such a hard time choosing because everything sounded so delicious, I could just imagine the flavours!

Mercer Hall’s menu I would describe as being ‘North American with some Asian influence’ – seaweed, rice balls, steam buns, tempura, kimchi sauerkraut, and wasabi mustard are just some of the Asian inspired items and ingredients found on the menu. In addition, the menu also offers quite a few vegetarian dishes, and they’re all pretty unique, too! You really can’t go wrong.

We split a Tempura Plate as an appetizer, which was delicious! The plate consists of seasonal veggies with Ponzu for dipping. I love tempura on veggies, especially yam. Tempura asparagus was interesting, I really liked it! (The plate looks a bit sparse because we couldn’t resist eating some of the tempura as soon as it came to the table – it tastes best hot!)For our mains, my boyfriend got the Tonkatsu Schnitzel on a bun, which came with chili potato slaw, wasabi mustard, pickles and a side of fries. He really said he really liked the breading on the pork, and that it was very flavourful.I got the Stick Beef Bowl, which was sort of like a stir fry. It came with glazed flatiron steak (which was perfect and SO tender), grilled asparagus, and curry peanuts. I really loved the peanuts and parsley with the curry sauce and rice, I had never thought of adding them to my stir fry but I might have to start! Mmm.I just really love the atmosphere at Mercer Hall. The decor is kind of Old World industrial meets country-vintage, with incandescent “Edison bulb” string lights and fixtures, copper tiles on the walls, barrels and soft greys throughout.We were too stuffed for dessert, but we did take a walk over to Balzac’s Coffee Roasters for iced Americanos before heading home. I love Balzac’s so much, we always stop in any time we’re in Stratford.Once we left the café, we could tell it was going to rain… and soon! The wind picked up, the dirt in the streets started flying and the leaves were whipping off of the trees in sheets – we were in for a doozy! At least we were fairly close to the car at this point and made it just as the rain was starting to come down in big, fat droplets.

Have you ever been to the Mercer Hall, or to a Balzac’s location? If so, what is your favourite thing to order, and what should I try next?

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Guys and Dolls, Stratford

Today I went to Stratford to see Guys and Dolls at the Festival Theatre! It was a beautiful day for a show and a walkabout around town.Guys and Dolls is a musical of the ’30s and ’40s, that is set in 1950s New York, where illicit gambling and fast-talking is the norm. Strapped for cash, gambler and crap entrepreneur Nathan Detroit is desperate to get his hands on some cash to secure a venue for his craps event – anybody who is anybody will be there, so the heat is on!

When Detroit runs into high-roller Sky Masterson, he makes Masterson an offer he can’t refuse, one that Detroit thinks is a ‘safe bet’ and will net him some easy cash: Can Masterson take any doll that Detroit names on a date?

Surely not if the ‘doll’ happens to be the strait-laced, level-headed Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission. But it turns out that it’s hearts that are at stake, and where love’s concerned there’s no telling how the dice will land.

Evan Buliung (centre) as Sky Masterson with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Guys and Dolls was vivid and energetic. The singing and dancing were on point. Director and choreographer Donna Feore is sheer talent, as is the company she worked with to make this show possible. I LOVED the opening act of the show, where everything was bustling like it was a busy city street and harbour area. Every scene of the show was exceptional!

Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The acting was also incredible – the company was full of talent. There is so much to say, but here is a bit about the artists who played some of my favourite characters:

I first encountered the talent of Alexis Gordon (Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls) last fall when she played Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music.

Alexis was great in A Little Night Music where she played a similar role of a straight-laced, naïve young woman – but the character of Sarah Brown was a firecracker just waiting to be lit! It was really nice to see Alexis portray a strong female character, and one that was a more major role. Also of note is Alexis’ singing! She has an incredible voice that you have to hear to believe.

This was my first time encountering the calibre of Blythe Wilson (Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls). She made Miss Adelaide come to life with believable effervescence. I hope I am able to see more of her work!

Alexis Gordon (left) as Sarah Brown and Blythe Wilson as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also enjoyed the smooth-talking and wise-cracking of both Sean Arbuckle (Nick Detroit in Guys and Dolls) and Evan Buliung (Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls). I also encountered Sean in A Little Night Music where he portrayed the more minor role of Mr. Lindquist.

The duo of Trevor Pratt (portraying Nicely-Nicely Johnson in this performance of Guys and Dolls) and Mark Uhre (Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls) were a riot! They’re really an ideal friendship and comic-relief.

My favourite aspects of the show were the signs that could change from black and white to all sorts of neon colours – and with the stage floor looking like a map of the city and the stage background made to look like scaffolding and fire escapes, it all really transported you and made you feel like you were on the mean-streets of New York City.I also loved the costumes, everything was gorgeous, period-appropriate, bright and sparkly. I especially loved Miss Adelaide’s outfits and her Hot Box Club costumes, in particular the one she wore for Bushel and a Peck – it was sparkly and gorgeous; it was exactly what I picture when I think of showgirls, very Gatsby-esque. The ensemble costumes for Take Back Your Mink were also gorgeous, and I loved that dance number!

Blythe Wilson (centre) as Miss Adelaide with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Aaaah, there is so much I could say about this show but I think I will leave it here. All I can really say it that if you get a chance to Guys and Dolls in Stratford, GO! It’s on until October 29.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, New Mexico

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks are located near Cochiti Pueblo, approximately 40 miles (65 kilometres) southwest of Santa Fe. ‘Kasha Katuwe’ means ‘White Cliffs’ in the Keresan Pueblo language. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks was designated as a national park in 2001, but the area and rock formations themselves are more than 7,000,000 years old.The ‘tent rocks’ get their name from how they look – literal tent-like cones made from layers of soft pumice and tuff that have eroded into this shape over time; the rock is very similar to what you see at Tsankawi. Some of the tent rocks are very short but others can reach upwards of 90 feet!When you walk on the 1.2 mile (1.9 kilometre) trail, you’re eventually led through a slot canyon that opens at the base of a rocky lookout that requires you to climb up a series of stairs. Once you reach the top, you get an magnificent view of the Tent Rocks.When you’re at the top, make sure you look down at the area around you, because you may just find some ‘Apache Tears’ – little round bits of obsidian that were formed during the pyroclastic flow, just like the Tent Rocks themselves. When you walk through the slot canyon you can sometimes see them embedded in the ‘walls’.It was a hot walk the day we went, so make sure you bring water with you and that you wear a hat. It’s a great spot if you’re looking for more intense hiking, as some of the trail through the slot canyon is very steep and rocky – lots of climbing! It is not recommended that you go when it is raining because slot canyons are prone to flash-flooding.

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Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico

Pecos National Historic Park was established as a national monument in 1965 and became a national historic park in 1990 following the inclusion of the Forked Lightning Ranch and the Glorieta Battlefield.The Pueblo and Mission Ruins Trail is a 1.25-mile (two kilometre) self-guided trail through the Pecos Pueblo and Mission Church sites. In addition, there is also the 2.25-mile Civil War Battle of Glorieta Hiking Trail, which we did not see during this trip.Pecos holds and preserves more than 12,000 years of history and cultural remains including pueblos and kivas, two Spanish Colonial Missions, part of the Santa Fe Trail, the Civil War battlefield at Glorieta Pass, and the Forked Lightning Ranch that was built in the 20th century.In addition, Pecos was the chosen summer home of E.E. “Buddy” Fogelson, a Texas oil magnate, and his wife, actress Greer Garson. Fogelson bought the Forked Lightning Ranch in 1941, expanded it to 13,000 acres and raised Santa Gertrudis Cattle. He married Garson in 1949, and together they helped to protect the land and actively supported preservation efforts.

Greer sold the ranch to the Conservation Fund in 1991, who then donated to the National Park Service. She and Fogelson received the Department of the Interior’s highest civilian honour – the Conservation Service Award.According to her friend, newspaper columnist Louella Parsons, Garson said, “I am taking to ranch life like a duck to water. I’ve switched from bustles and bows to Levi’s and boots, and I think it’s definitely a change for the better.”

I definitely share that sentiment!
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Galisteo Basin, New Mexico

One of the days of our trip was spent almost entirely at Galisteo Basin, where we wandered around the desert looking at plants and for signs of a by-gone era.We also hiked a lot, clambering our way up on top of some rocky hills and mountains that had spectacular views.Galisteo Basin is approximately 467,200 acres of desert and rugged sandstone with carved arroyos (Spanish for ‘streams’) and vast grasslands that stretch from San Miguel County, across Santa Fe County and into Sandoval County. Its main watercourse is the Galisteo Creek that flows down into the Río Grande.

Galisteo is located between two mountain ranges – in the northeast are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and in the southwest are the Sandia Mountains – and it also connects the Great Plains and the Río Grande Valley. These features made Galisteo a desirable trade route.The earliest known humans to inhabit Galisteo Basin were the Paleo Indians, who arrived in the area early as early as 7500 to 6000 B.C. As time went on, other ancestral peoples and Spanish explorers also made Galisteo their home. Despite its ideal area, much of the Galisteo Basin remained sparsely populated until around the 12th century.

From the late 1200s to about 1600 A.D., several large pueblos were built approximately 12 miles (19km) from the heart of where the Galisteo Basin Preserve land is today. The largest and most well-known pueblo in Galisteo Basin is the San Cristóbal Pueblo which contained five eight or nine-room blocks that were several storeys in height. It also had five ceremonial plazas, the largest of which had a ceremonial Kiva. It is estimated that the San Cristóbal Pueblo had a population ranging between 500 and 1,000 people.

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When we arrived at Galisteo, we entered via Highway 285 and travelled down Astral Valley Road until we reached the end of Southern Crescent Drive at Candid Crossing.We spent a few hours walking along and off the trails in that area to take photos of the plants. We also found evidence of ‘cowboys’ that had used once use the area – square nails and shards of glass that were patinated in shades of pink and purple. In fact, I found a chunk that had part of a drug company name that I was able to trace back to at least 1910!Later on in the afternoon we moved on to more hiking. We got back in the car and made our way to the Cowboy Shack trail head where we proceeded to trek the Shepherd’s Trail.Coming to a fork in the road at marker 19, we made a left to continue on to Eliza’s Ridge Trail and then Sophie’s Spur. Here we met a nice family and their dog who was very agile and adventurous!When we got to marker 20, we doubled back and made our way the fork where we decided to go along the trail to marker 39 where Liam’s Lark and Cinque’s Spur meet. We went this way to take a look at the valley, which was very lush and green despite the rest the trails being so sparse and rocky. We did see this neat tree along the way though!I loved Galisteo Basin so much and wanted to spend more time there. I just loved looking at all of the beautiful desert flowers and cacti (especially the cacti!), and also searching for signs and a portal back into a time gone by.There’s just something about the vastness of the desert that makes one feel free – when I close my eyes, I can imagine being there, looking out over the vista. It feels like I’m really there. I can’t wait to go back.∆ ∆ ∆

Tsankawi Village Trail, New Mexico

After our visit to Bandelier National Monument, we drove about 12 miles (19km) to Tsankawi (sank-ah-WEE) – a Tewa word meaning “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti”. The Tsankawi Village Trail is but a small portion of the protected lands within Bandelier.Tsankawi Sign, New MexicoIn addition to being a part of the National Monument, Tsankawi is also an archaeological site that is culturally significant to the people of San Ildefonso Pueblo, who are descendants of the Ancestral Tewa people who once inhabited Tsankawi several thousand years ago.

When you enter the park, don’t forget to pick up a trail guide!Like the Frey Trail at the main park, Tsankawi Village Trail is self-guided and has various numbered markers along the way that tell you more about what you’re looking at. The loop is 1.5-miles (2.4km) in length.

A large portion of the Tsankawi trail takes hikers through various footpaths and stairways that were cut into the tuff (soft volcanic rock) by the Tewa. These footpaths provided the Tewa with safer and easier access to the mesa-top. As you walk along the routes, you can’t help but imagine what daily life would have been like.Photo by Riaz QureshiImagine walking on these in the rain or during the winter!Footpaths, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoFire stone/artifact at Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoOnce you reach the mesa-top there is a spectacular view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Jemez Mountains and the Río Grande Valley. It’s really a sight to see! I spent a lot of time just taking in the landscape.Tsankawi1Mesa-top, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoMesa-top, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoThe village portion of the trail had about 275 ground-floor rooms, many of which were only one to two storeys high. These rooms were used for everything including sleeping, cooking and storing crops and other supplies.

It is believed that the Tewa made Tsankawi their home sometime during the 1400s, where they built their houses and other structures using volcanic rock and adobe. Like the people living at the Frijoles Canyon, the people of Tsankawi took advantage of building cavates (cave dwellings) into the rock face. Many of the caves had stone buildings built out front, which helped to keep the dwellings warm in winter and cool in summer.Seeking - Tsankawi, New MexicoBecause the area receives only about 15 inches of rain per year, Tsankawi experiences periods of prolonged drought. Despite this, the Tewa found ways to thrive through foraging for native plants and cultivating beans, corn and squash.

Plants, like the Tewa people, also adapted to the dry landscape. The types of plants that can be found along the trail are typical of piñon-juniper woodlands and include piñon, yucca, rabbitbrush, salt brush, juniper and mountain mahogany. The Tewa and other Ancient Pueblo people used these plants for food, medicine, dyes, spices and tools – many of which are still used by the Pueblo people of today.Indian Paintbrush, Tsankawi, New MexicoWhile the Tewa were able to live at Tsankawi for generations at some point around the late 16th century, the Tewa left. Archaeologists believe they relocated due to heavy drought and other factors, such as the soil becoming infertile due to years of farming and the depletion of resources. It is believed the Tewa had to venture out further and further to gather even the most basic of resources including fire wood.

As time went on, the buildings fell into ruin due to the elements – the roofs collapsed, the walls crumbled and washed away. As a result, artifacts such as pottery and tools were washed away and the rubble and sand covering everything. Plants eventually began to grow all over the disturbed ground, further obscuring what was once visible.

Today you can find shards of pottery and other artifacts along the footpaths. In addition to encountering these small pieces of the past, you can also see many petroglyphs carved into the rock face.Pottery Shards at Tsankawi Village Trail, New Mexico Pictographs, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoPictographs2, Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexcoMuch of Tsankawi and nearly 3,000 other archaeological sites at Bandelier remain unexcavated – only a handful have been. This is largely due to the cultural significance of the area to the San Ildefonso Pueblo, but thanks to modern technology much can be learned about the site without ever having to uncover it.Footpaths at Tsankawi Village Trail, New MexicoFor more information on Bandelier National Monument, check out my previous post!

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