It was a beautiful summer here in Ontario, but now fall has arrived with lots of rain and a real unpleasant chill in the air. I promised to tell you about our visits to Stratford and other events that took place in August. Things are changing in the Covid department, in that fully vaccinated people now have freedom to go into restaurants, hotels, concerts, golf clubs, a myriad of other things, and I am now swimming in my public indoor pool. After a fairly sedentary summer of recovering from my surgery and infection, I am back to activity and enjoying my new found liberation.
The golf course has been in excellent condition and I hosted an annual luncheon and golf event that honors and thanks former captains and presidents who have volunteered their time to serve our club, Islington. There was a lovely lunch that I organized with chef Tim and our catering manager, Jennifer, and our House manager, another wonderful Jennifer, did very pretty floral arrangements for our tables. It was a delightful afternoon, albeit a bit chilly, and brilliantly Chef substituted hot tomato basil soup for the originally chosen gazpacho. The arctic char was perfectly cooked, and for those preferring meat, a small filet was offered. Both were served with terrific root vegetables, a yummy salad, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. The wine flowed. I had to speak so I limited my consumption. It was super to be indoors, albeit at specific tables because of Covid rules, and after we sat down we could take off our masks. Yes! Best of all, the club treated us to this feast, and our inimitable head pro Phil, who always has a wonderful sense of humor, was in attendance.
Of course by now if you have been following my blogs, you know that I love food and my life revolves around it, well almost. When I swim I think of recipes and meals that I want to serve, and even without guests, I plan our daily dinners with pleasure. Charles and I also love to go to wine and food tastings and are always on the look out for appealing ones. At my club, a delightful evening was planned for only 24 guests. We invited our closest friends, Liz and Wouter to join us. The theme was California Dreaming with sea colored decor outside on the patio, with menus, and wines all reflecting this. It was a gorgeous evening and we dressed up and were in a party mood.We discovered our new favourite rosé, Angels and Cowboys, enjoyed wines from Sonoma County, and the Napa Valley. Charles and I did a bike trip years ago to this fabulously scenic area of California, and we both still have a love of the wines inspired by that trip. The meal included ravioli with whipped ricotta, tuna tartare, veal tenderloin with wild chanterelles, and panna cotta for dessert with peach beignet, and the peaches were glorious this summer. Again Chef Tim outdid himself.
I have been busy recording my book, Aria: Song of a Life for Audible, and one of the first things I talk about was my love of food. Even as a child as young as eight years, I always liked preparing food and would do so one day a week. So please understand my obsession.
Stratford Festival is one of my favourite events of every summer. Sadly, because of Covid, the summer of 2020 was quiet, but with restrictions there was a limited season this summer of ’21. There were two large tents constructed with open sides and had a capacity for about 50 people, and there was a stage of course. I booked two Cabaret shows, Shakespeare’s Dream, a shortened version of Midsummer Night’s dream, The Rez Sisters, a play by Thomson Highway that originally was performed in the 80’s, and Three Tall Women https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Tall_Women.
It was a mixed season as I will explain, but first I should tell you that we love going to Stratford and staying at the Bruce Hotel. It is a charming elegant place, and I am sure I have written about it before, but the chef, Brandon Clemens, is simply extraordinary. We try to save an evening just for sampling his tasting menu. The only mistake we made was eating lunch in the bar. The soup was so good, a lobster bisque, followed by fish that we didn’t have room to enjoy every morsel at dinner. The pictures of one of the dishes is included below, but the creativity and originality was simply wonderful. We also chose the wine pairings. Some of the dishes included a spring pea tart, caviar in a fried taco, bison, foraged fiddleheads, blackened salmon, Maitake mushrooms and Wagyu beef. All small portions but still enough to stuff us up. Fortunately, dessert was summer berries. A memorable evening.
After which we returned to the room we almost always book, a bit disappointing this summer as a large tent was constructed outside our room’s patio and the view was spoiled. This tent served as a performing space and it was understandable in the Covid climate that this was useful to the city. The good news is that it will not be there next year when we return. I am a bit crazy and went all over the hotel to find a room that did not have this view, but that was a futile quest. We would put up with it on our second visit. I know it sounds spoiled, but it is just so appealing to wake up looking at space, hills and flowers, not a tent.
Back to the performances. Our first was a Cabaret show called Can’t Stop the Beat. All the performers were excellent as was the band, but they sang with music on stands in front of them, which to me is an insult. Learn the music and the dialogue as this is Stratford after all. There is always a barrier when performers have music stands. The set was tacky and there were no costumes, at least have all the performers in black. There seemed to be no direction. Frankly, I was disappointed in the low standard. Stratford has always had the highest quality theatre. We did see The Dream, at another tent near The Tom Patterson Theatrehttps://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2021/06/09/new-tom-patterson-theatre-at-stratford-festival-likely-to-win-applause-from-audiences.html It was terrific, full of fun and hijinks and very well acted.
The Rez Sisters was also presented under a tent and was incredible. I had seen this show years ago in the 80’s when it was first presented, but in today’s atmosphere, a look into the life of Indigenous people was perfectly timed. See my previous blog Beautiful Province Part 2. There I discuss the horrific tragedy of the residential schools. The acting was compelling and the story of a group of friends who want to go to the big city for a huge Bingo game is in turns, funny and sad.
On a return visit we saw a short performance of a tribute to Kander and Ebb by Ryan Hinds. It was a review of sorts and really quite an ego trip for the flamboyant Mr. Hinds who moved well and acted just fine, but absolutely had no voice and could not sing. The music direction by Mark Selby was terrific and I wish Mr. Hinds could have equalled that. We really went to see Lazaridis Hall in the Tom Patterson Theatre so it was worthwhile, and we accidentally noticed our names on the wall of the lobby because we helped out with the funding.
We had booked The Three Tall Women for a return visit. This Edward Albee play starring Martha Henry, Mamie Swettler and Lucy Peacock was on our must see list. We went to Stratford to have lunch at Mercer Kitchen before the performance. and while we were enjoying it I got a phone call from the development officer at Stratford to tell me that the performance was cancelled as Martha was not feeling well. We were to see the last preview before opening, and I assumed she wanted to save her energy for that occasion. I then heard she was suffering from a cancerous tumor on her spine and was in a wheel chair, but was determined to perform. We booked another show date as I thought this might be her swan song, and indeed it was. Her performance was riveting and poignant as it was about a sick old woman dying. Each cast member was incredible, and even though the play was divided in two parts, one at 3:00pm and one at 7:00pm because of Covid restrictions, it still held a spell over us and at the end everyone stood up and extended an ovation. I was breathless after it was over. Martha’s performance was something I will never forget. Two weeks later, I was informed of her death just before the news went out in a media release.Tears were shed for this great artist of 83, much of her life spent on the stage thrilling audiences, and recently thrilling us.
This seems to be a food themed blog so I will tell you about another tremendous experience. We booked the Elora Mill for an overnight. Amazingly you can go away for a day and overnight, and then return and feel refreshed as if you have been away a much longer time. The town of Elora is just over an hour from Toronto, so an easy drive and one can choose to take a less popular route like Hwy 7 across the countryside rather than choosing the truck laden 401. Elora is a charming town and worth a visit. The Mill has always been the centrepiece and the hotel is simply beautiful with every detail just so. We arrived mid morning and it was a glorious day. We found a fun spot for lunch called The Friendly Society a very casual but cute restaurant. We ate downstairs and had enormous salads which accompanied our dishes, Charles, a Reuben, and myself, a smoked trout tartine. Both tasty. After lunch we wandered all over town and noted the many Papier Maché sculptures everywhere. Must be some sort of fall Elora art thing. We went into many stores that had totally charming wares for sale and I bought some gifts.
We headed over to the hotel and met Chris Parson, a charming man with whom I had made our reservations. Our room was ready so we headed up to it and were more than pleased. Before I booked I noted that every day in the summer as well as the fall was taken, so we arrived on a Tuesday for our mid week break. The room, well suite really, was gorgeous with a huge terrace, think it was called The Terrace Suite, overlooking the Elora Gorgehttps://www.grandriver.ca/en/outdoor-recreation/Elora-Gorge.aspx. It wasn’t warm but we went outside to have some bubbly that had been offered to us in the room. There was a fire pit and we got it going with the help of a porter. How lovely! We could see the pool and spa. Naturally I had a bath in the sumptuous tub, we dressed nicely for dinner and went downstairs to the kitchen of the restaurant to enjoy a tasting dinner at the kitchen counter right in the middle of the action. And what a dinner it was by Jonathan Gushue. One highlight was a rack of lamb with the bones cut off served with fresh peas and natural juices. Another was squab with foraged mushrooms and wild grape vinaigrette. We also sampled oyster tartare with BC Coho salmon and creme fraiche, and onwards it went until dessert of semi freddo and roasted plum. Many of the wines were Spanish and delicious. It was fascinating watching the chefs in the kitchen making everything from scratch and also making dinners for the diners in the restaurant.
Breakfast in the morning was part of the package and we sat in a window overlooking the running gorge water. I had lobster and scrambled eggs, Charles the Miller’s breakfast with eggs, bacon and the usual fare. All good. We then headed home, the lovely slow way down country roads, our wallets a little lighter, but our pleasure quotient nice and heavy.
We are making the great migration to Florida next week, so it will be a little while before I get a chance to tell you about some fabulous concert experiences we have heard in Toronto this fall.
Stay safe and be happy!