All posts by Kelvin

Out with the old…

Finally got around to doing some things around the house that we’ve dreamed of doing since we bought the place.

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Christmas, New Year’s, etc.

Just a couple of quick pictures from our Christmas and updates. We went to Hong Kong and Manila over the Christmas break. The whole trip was surprisingly restful but it was such a joy to meet up with a good friend in Hong Kong and spend time with our families. Manila was incredible, I always get a feeling of comfort whenever I’m there and Catherine seemed to enjoy her first trip to the south pacific. Upon coming back to Canada we were greeted with sheets of ice everywhere (in our absence we missed two big ice storms). In work related news, Cat interviewed and accepted a contract (ie. permanent) position with the public school board here in Kingston. This has been an immense blessing and source of thanksgiving for us as we look to starting a family in the near future.

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Work

Cat and I don’t really talk about work or what we do on our blog. Given the nature of our work and who we work for/with, we decided that it’s probably best if we are as vague as possible. So, you know that I own a small business here in Kingston and Cat does…something or other.

My business partner and I are in the process of moving into a new commercial space and it’s been a really long and tiring process, BUT there has been some fun! For instance, we stopped into Structube this past week to pick out our office furniture. This is the waiting room seating and office desk that we’ve decided on.

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Cat and I have been a real mid-century kick and this desk fits perfectly with that. Too bad it’s for work and not for home, not that I could fit it in our home office anyways! My business partner and I picked out some chairs too but I forgot to take a picture of them. They’re like a much cheaper, probably less well-made version of the Eames Aluminum Group management chair. Maybe when I’m a big, successful business man I can drop the money on one of those bad boys…or an Aeron. My butt and lower back can always dream!!

Brunch

Usually Sundays are our unwind day. We’ll go to church in the morning and then we have small group or a Bible study at night. Those 6-7 hours in between are some of the most relaxing and, often, productive times that we have to do stuff around the house. Lately, and by lately I mean the past couple of months, we’ve been finding ourselves eating out for brunch quite a bit after church.

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Now that Gary and Joyce are regularly attending our church we’ve had some additions to the brunch table and we decided that we should try to eat in every so often.

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This past week we had our weekly brunch at Pat’s place. There was this crazy smorgasbord of waffles, breakfast casserole, bacon, fruit, and of course a cheese platter! Since joining our new small group at church I’ve realized how awesome cheese+fruit platters are and so at every “home” brunch I’ll try to put a simple platter out. I also tried making sangria for the first time. It did not turn out great. In hindsight I should have put more fruit juice (maybe try a lemonade next time) and less wine. Oh well!

Christmas

Just some shots from what we’ve been up to over the Christmas break. It’s really great that Cat and I are able to work in similar fields, which means that most of our vacations coincide with each other (except I don’t get summers off!).

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Our annual family Christmas party was in Kingston this year, and it just so happened that some of my cousins’ little ones from a branch of the family that we don’t see often joined us this year! So my brother and I decided to host a gingerbread house event (it wasn’t really a contest) for the little guys at his place. My cousin at the end of the table there is an architect in Montreal so he was REALLY into it with his open floor plan gingerbread condo complex.

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Things were so busy this year between me traveling for work shortly before the Christmas break and heading to Toronto to spend some time with Cat’s family that my parents didn’t get their presents until after Christmas day! Early on Boxing Day my brother and I headed over to my parents place to give them in person.

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Catherine and I were totally loaded up on gift cards from Christmas and we decided to spend most of them on home decor. I ended up getting some JBL Duet II speakers for a real bargain at Home Sense and Catherine picked up a few more coffee table books. We also decided that we should spend some time during the break sprucing up our dining room. First part of the project was to remove the horrendous wallpaper trim that has been assaulting my eyes since we first bought the place. I REALLY hated that wallpaper.

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Next phase was taping off everything. I originally wanted to try painting the whole main floor, but we quickly realized that it would be way too much work. You can see our little test strip of paint over where Cat was – it was really hard to judge how the room would look based on that one tiny little portion.

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This is after two coats of Ultra Pure White by Behr. I love the way it brightens up the space, even at night the white paint makes such a huge difference. We’re going to have to reintroduce colour on that main wall there so that it doesn’t look so washed out, but we’re both really pleased with the outcome so far. This project only cost us about $50 (plus $20 for lunch from Kenko!) which is HUGE savings compared to hiring someone to do it but I’m not sure if I would be as thrilled to do the rest of the main floor. It’s a lot of work doing the prep work for painting (spackle, sanding, washing) and our entry way has a lot of tight corners. Oh well, maybe in the spring.

EDIT: We finished up the dining room today. This is what it looks like!

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Fare on the Square

Today was Kingston’s annual Fare on the Square which was a celebration of local food and farmers. A bunch of restaurants had sample tastings for $2. Apparently, according to the City of Kingston, our farmer’s market is the oldest-continuous running market in North America. Who knew.

Cat and I have been meaning to go this event for the past two years but have never made it out for reasons that I now forget. It was raining and crummy today, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. And I finally got a chance to test the panorama feature out on iOS6! That poor kid on the left hand side of the shot got chopped off!

Packages

I think that waiting for packages to arrive is one of the most exciting/thrilling/frustrating/annoying activities in our modern lives. From the moment we place our order to the time that we receive our tracking information to the very day of expected delivery it’s a never ending roller coaster of emotions!

I was talking to my mom yesterday about how every time a car passes by the house I’ll run to a room with windows facing the street just to see if it’s the UPS/Fed-ex/Purolator/LDH guy. And every time I would come back to my room a little bit more disappointed than the previous visit. My mom laughed and mentioned that I’m a lot like our family friend Betty, who is in her eighties. When Betty was younger their family would order items from the Sears catalogue (!!) through regular mail (!!) and she would love the anticipation but had no idea when her packages would arrive. I can relate a lot to Betty, but I’m also glad that we live in an era where we have tracking information and the internet to complete our orders.

Hidden Gems

One of the really neat things we love about living in Kingston are all hidden gems like the little restaurants and bakeries that have informally cemented themselves as practically institutions in the city. Fardella’s Classic bakery is one of those places. I remember going there when I was younger and getting cheesecakes and quiches for special occasions. They’ve recently relaunched themselves as a internet cafe/breakfast/lunch place to go along with their bakery and so Catherine and I decided to give it a try. It’s a really cute and intimate spot with vintage decor all over the place. The sandwiches were really delicious but the highlight were definitely the baked goods, which I clearly forgot to take a picture of!

(A)typical Saturday

Saturdays in Kingston are typically now our free days. I’ll spend a couple of hours at work in the morning and by lunchtime the day is ours again. Our favourite lunch place to hit is a little Japanese hole-in-the-wall in Portsmouth Village near the university. I don’t want to say the name here because this joint is so small and so good that people will no doubt flock to it in droves.

Lunch here is always so so so soooo good and typical to Kingston, the owners of this Japanese establishment are Korean but the food is delicious and the value is just right. During lunch today Cat and I tried to map and time out how to best use the rest of our day. We decided that we would first go for a hike at Marshlands Conservation area along Front Road. Catherine has been wanting to show me this place ever since she went on one of her biking excursions down there.

The trail itself, I’ll admit, was a bit boring. It’s certainly not the lengthiest or most varied trail in Kingston, but it definitely has it’s charm. We came across a couple of link ups to the train tracks, which brought out the inner vagabond in us. There was also these really neat crossing points that had the trail turn into a wooden plank bridge across the marshlands. Also unlike typical trails this one was a straight line, meaning that once we got to the end point (Queen Mary Road) we had to turn around on the same trail. I don’t know how often we’ll come back to this trail for our hikes since it’s quite far from where we live but it’s pretty awesome for people who live close by!

After the hike we decided that we should head to the Hudson Bay Company at the mall. Earlier an aunty from our former church dropped off a gift card on behalf of the moms and dads of the youth that we used to work with. It was such a sweet and generous thing of them to do. We’ve been in the market for a vacuum cleaner for the past 4-6 months and much to Cat’s resentment I’ve been holding us off on the purchase until I’ve “completed my research”, which basically means scouring the internet for vacuum reviews. Appliances are kind of my thing so Cat is more than happy to let me have at it, even if it means our carpets go unclean for longer periods of time. Just as an obligatory hygiene note: we have been borrowing my parents’ spare vacuum for the past little while, so our house IS clean!

When it comes to picking out appliances or other products I’ll turn to my friend Terry, who got engaged around the same time as Catherine and I, and we’ll get into lengthy email/text conversations about which brand is best and why. Terry, along with my parents, pointed us in the direction of Miele, a German company who has basically written the book on how to design the cutest looking vacuums while making them incredibly functional. These bad boys, depending on the model, can range from $400-1200.

So walking into the Bay I knew what brand/model-ish we wanted and had coerced Catherine into being okay with buying a $600 vacuum (hehe), reassuring her that I knew what I was doing. Man did we ever get lucky. As we walk up to the vacuum section there’s only two of the S2 canister models left, one of which was a fairly dinged up floor model and the other was a sealed box model with no price. The floor model had a sticker on it that said $359.99 (MSRP $599). I started freaking out to Catherine because I felt like we had totally lucked out on that price, even if it was for a floor model. A sales associate comes by and I ask about the floor model and he mentions that there’s a sealed box model on top (duh) and that it’s priced at $359.99 as well. I don’t even remember if he finished his sentence before I told him that we would take it. AND since we had giftcards, we ended up only paying about $100 for this vacuum.

Our new Miele vacuum on the right, aptly named Blueberry the Blue vacuum. My parents’ Miele S2 on the left, which Catherine dubbed PomPom (for pomegranate)

It’s hard to explain my emotions on getting this amazing Miele S2 Continuum canister vacuum with powerhead and HEPA certified filters for basically 1/6 of the price. We’re so domestic-ized.

Burrito Amigo – adieu to the burger wars

Catherine is leaving for a ladies-only trip to Cornwall/Montreal tonight and so before she leaves we decided to have lunch and spend some time downtown. I’ve been to Burrito Amigo before (I went on Friday – you’ll note today is Sunday…yeah they’re that good) with a good friend of mine as a farewell lunch for him, but this was Cat’s first visit after I raved excitedly about how delicious it was. So, waking up this morning I had burritos on the mind and couldn’t wait to head downtown.

We’ve recently been bitten with the Mexican/Tex-mex bug from our recent trip to San Francisco and it hasn’t let up since coming back to Kingston. Imagine our elation when the burrito joint we’ve had our eye on for a while finally opened! Burrito Amigo is nestled just a stone’s throw away from the hub and Queen’s campus. This place is super easy to get to for students! The menu is simple and fresh, and to Catherine’s delight is printed on craft card stock.

I went with a dark meat chicken burrito this time, which is steeped in a mustard-thyme marinade, with cilantro-lime rice, black beans fried in bacon fat, pico de gallo, fresh red salsa, guacamole, sour cream, monterey jack cheese, lettuce, and chipotle garlic mayo. Catherine went for the brisket burrito, which is double cooked in their signature spice rub, and topped it with everything I had sans guacamole and chipotle garlic mayo. In all honesty, I think burritos are the perfect meal – possibly even a contender for my pretend death row meal. I think what the Burrito Amigo guys are doing is great – hitting a niche that went relatively unfilled and serving up some of the meanest burritos in the Limestone City.

As I was eating I was conflicted because on one hand I would love to see these guys expand their menu a bit more (fresh tortilla chips to go with those signature salsas, guys!! salsa verde, perhaps?! or carne asada tacos!) but on the other hand why mess with success? Their business and their brand is still in its infancy so I can understand the simplicity of what they’re currently offering to Kingston. The owner and head chef are a couple of the most down to earth guys we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Chris Tringham and Ben Tennant seem like the kind of guys that you would want to kick back a couple of cervezas with and play some ultimate frisbee or something. Cat and I were chatting about how young these guys are and how awesome it is that they’re putting themselves out there like this. Owning a restaurant, let alone a small business, is no easy task – especially in a downtown core that sees so much tenant turnover. Speaking as a small business owner myself I have to hand it to Chris and Ben for being a couple of the coolest and bravest hombres on the restaurant scene in Kingston.

Cat and I are always down for promoting downtown businesses on our blog because we want our downtown to succeed. I mentioned to Chris that there are some food events/festivals that happen downtown that they should consider getting involved with to build their brand awareness more. They are the perfect business (easy to make, mobile food) to be using social media to their advantage in order to create hype around their business. This past Saturday was our city’s annual downtown promenade where they make Princess Street pedestrian only. Ben mentioned that they rented some tables in expectation of the crowds but very few people actually used them. Calculated financial risks are always going to be a part of any start up but I appreciate their willingness to try different things. Kingstonians are not exactly known for their adventurous spirit food-wise, so I hope Ben and Chris really try some creative ways to draw us townies in.

In the meantime, we’ll be telling our friends, family, co-workers, and anyone who stops by our blog to mosey on down to Burrito Amigo (337 Princess Street) to eat some amazing food and chat with some really great guys.

Burrito Amigo on Urbanspoon

Montreal Stop Four – Juliette et Chocolat (bustling on St-Denis)

The last thing we did in Montreal was that we paid a quick visit to Juliette et Chocolat in the Latin Quarter, which had been highly recommended to us. Even though it was just past 8 pm, it was already quite the popular spot. We lined up for 15-20 minutes, but unfortunately for the group who was behind us, they were still waiting when our food started to arrive.

atmosphere

Do not be deceived – despite this shop being in a “basement”, it was very brightly lit. The space is long and narrow, with some prep action happening right at the front of the store. Also, the cafe was noticeably clad in red, white, and pink, but that might have been because it was close to Valentine’s Day (yes…this post is also long overdue).

As you walk in, you are hit with the smell of deliciousness (i.e. butter and flour). The place looks like it’s going for a local neighbourhood hangout feel for couples and groups. There was something a little bit off about the store, but we soon figured out that it was the lack of appropriate audible background music.

what we ordered

Juliette et Chocolat has a vast menu, with diverse options for chocolate drink, but also many other drinks (alcoholic coffees, smoothies, teas, beer). Generally this wouldn’t be a place I’d go for a full sit down dinner, what with the predominantly dessert-centered menu. They offer crepes (sweet, savoury, and flambe), fondue, ice cream, brownies, and other foods too!

M and I both got hot chocolates. Juliette et Chocolat offers two different types of consistency in their hot chocolate. Grandma style is thicker, whereas classic style is more liquid (the difference is in the amount of milk the drink has). Also, they arrive in this little personal pitcher that you pour into a bowl. We enjoyed that thoroughly.

I got the classic milk ($4.85), which was realllly nice and smooth, and M got the Grandma’s dark semi-sweet ($5.65), which could be likened to drinking delicious frothy chocolate. Both welcome changes to the usual thin hot chocolate you get when you’re on the go. If you let these hot chocolates sit in your cup, though, it solidifies almost into a pudding, which I found really awkward to drink.

The two men decided to kick some caffeine into their system, with guy C ordering a cappuccino ($?) and K getting a coffee ($?). Both had a good aroma to them, but you could taste some coffee grind. (Only the cappuccino is pictured above; the coffee just came in your typical mug)

In addition to the drinks, we also ordered two crepes.

This is the Normandy crepe ($7.85) with apples, ice cream, and chocolate of course. We were expecting some big “Opa!” Worthy flambe, but it actually is lit in a smallish pitcher and then poured over the fruit. You can see the blue flame run in a line across the crepe. Initially you can taste the flambe, but it wanes over time. I preferred this crepe to the following one.

This is the Antillaise crepe ($13.95). The bananas are hidden behind the pineapples in this picture, and this crepe also comes with ice cream. You might be able to tell from the picture, but the fruit in the crepes was mostly canned, with the exception of some of the chunks on the side. We could really taste and see the difference. The vanilla ice cream was really great and smooth, and the crepe was quite good too.

One last thing – perhaps we haven’t been to enough chocolate cafes, but we noticed a couple sitting at another table with fondue, and it wasn’t hot! Rather the two were served a plate of fruit with a small bowl (like what they use to hold creme brulee) full of chocolate. Just wanted to put that out there for any of you hoping to get a chocolate fountain when you order fondue.

overall

3.0 (out of 5) for food

3.0 (out of 5) for atmosphere

All in all, Juliette et Chocolat holds an interesting niche, but it still needs a little more quality for us to place it in the “must-visit” column. This place can’t be compared to the likes of Max Brenner, but it’s a cute little place you might want to visit. It doesn’t seem as if K and I will be back any time soon, but if you’re in the area you can pop by Juliette et Chocolat at 1615 St-Denis, Montréal or online at http://www.julietteetchocolat.com.

C

Juliette Et Chocolat on Urbanspoon

Montreal Stop Three – Holder Restaurant (Value in Old Montreal)

After a few leisurely rounds of snow tubing at Mont Royal and a lovely stroll along the ports of Old Montreal, we were eager to visit our third stop on this Montreal food whirlwind. Though we had made reservations for 6:30, we found ourselves at the restaurant well before then, but they were still able to seat us right away. There is no shortage of fantastic restaurants in the Old Montreal area, but we chose to check out Holder because their menu looked great, the reviews were pretty consistent, and the prices were very reasonable.

atmosphere

When you first enter the building that Holder is in, it feels very much like an office building, with a store on the right and Holder on the left. That was a little bit weird, but once you enter the restaurant, you will find that it has a very nice ambiance, with appropriate lighting and separate bar and dining areas. As we were really early, there weren’t very many people in the room.

Service was great at the start. The server was very affirming of our selections and made great recommendations. However, as the restaurant filled up, service started to suffer, and by the end of our evening, we were waiting a ridiculously long time for the server to come around to our table.

what we ordered

Just to put it out there, Holder has a GREAT menu. We literally spent 20 minutes trying to decide what to eat, and we had to ask the server for more time because we just couldn’t decide. The food won us over right from the beginning…even with the bread basket. The portion sizes were great, and the flavour very palpable.

I am not usually a wine drinker but M and guy C thought it would be nice to get something so we got a bottle of 2009 Riesling white wine. I will withhold my comment on the wine, because I really don’t know how to appreciate it, and I don’t want to give an uninformed decision when it comes to this.

Despite changing my mind multiple times when it came to what dish I should get as my appetizer, I finally decided to get the french onion soup ($9.25) to start. A very large soup, It was deliciously subtle, staying true to its flavour without being super salty or cheesy. One of the better french onion soups that I’ve had in my lifetime.

K had the beef tartare ($10.25). I’ve never had beef tartare before, but I  have always wanted to try it. K thought that the appetizer presented itself as a pleasant surprise – the texture was perfect and the use of onions to punctuate the dish was a welcome touch. The taste was nice with an almost sour and spicy ending. After having some myself, I personally wouldn’t order it on my own, but definitely as a sharing appetizer.

On to the main course. I went with one of the evening specials – the Filet Mignon (I believe it was $32). It came with sweet potato puree and asparagus and a horseradish-esque sauce.  The meat was so very tender, cooked medium rare instead of medium like I asked, but still so good. The sauce paired really well with the meat, and needless to say, I was in beef heaven.

K got the regular grilled steak ($19. 75) with shallots and house fries. You can see that they really loaded those fries on. Unfortunately, K had actually asked for the fries to be switched to green beans and they forgot about, but as a consolation, they gave the beans to him on the house. The meat wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was filling.

overall

4.0 (out of 5) for food

4.0 (out of 5) for atmosphere

Holder has a really nice and lively atmosphere without being snooty. The prices are very reasonable, and we will definitely be coming here again. There are so many appetizers that we still want to try! Definitely worth a visit, visit Holder at 407, McGill Street in Montreal or take a look at their website (http://www.restaurantholder.com).

C

Holder on Urbanspoon