Tutti Matti…Italian; “Everyone is crazy”…except those at Tutti Matti

All is crazy, seems to be the theme these days….and by days, I mean years.  About 12 years ago, a cyclone went through our town and planted a tree in our roof.  Just over three years ago our house exploded and we found ourselves homeless for a few months while all was being re-built.  Two weeks ago, an F3 tornado cut a swath through Goderich again, this time decimating the core of the town.  As each disaster left its physical scars, the real work began to emerge.  Each event stressful for some more than others.  Each event we found ourselves turning to rituals to calm, restore and replenish our tired minds, bodies and souls.

As is often noted, the ritual of food preparation and sharing is also one that sustains us in more ways than just nutritionally.

Pat and I chose to leave the craziness and stress of Goderich, where his office building is in a delicate state, in order to bring Emily back to McGill.  An attempt at creating normalcy.  Our time away meant that we could be taken out of the obvious circumstances of the office re-location and 15 staff, in order to pause, and if lucky have a good sleep.

On our way home from Montreal we took one more night in Toronto, so that we could go to our favorite Toronto restaurant, Tutti Matti.  We discovered Tutti Matti within months of it opening a few years ago.  We were drawn by the initial review of the restaurant, and that it served traditional Tuscan food; but what makes us go back again and again, is the fact that it not only nourishes our bodies, but our weary selves.  One cannot live well, love well or sleep well, unless one has dined well. Virginia Woolf.  I would add, that the value of the dining experience is directly related to those that prepare and share it with you.  This is where Tutti Matti shines.

As with all other visits that have included many personal celebrations(most recently Patrick’s 50th), we were warmly received and brought to our table in full view of the open kitchen.  I spent many years working in restaurants and to say that  pots and pans being thrown around were as frequent as the incessant swearing and yelling, is an understatement.  No such disorder exists at Tutti Matti.  This is a rarefied group within the often times turbulent restaurant industry.  The only thing crazy at Tutti Matti are the customers….like us;)  The staff is incredibly organized, efficient and are clearly passionate about their individual trades.  Each person contributes skillfully to the sense of purpose and calm.

Tutti Matti is as stable as the traditions that are reflected within its walls.  The unrelenting ability to create authentic Tuscan cuisine is awe-inspiring.  This is all due to its birth-mother Alida Soloman.  I have always believed that superior performance in a restaurant can only be achieved by a great leader, and Alida is this.  That comment will make her cringe!…I should take it out, but I can’t!  The staff are genuinely nice, I know that sounds hokey, but its true.  You want to invite them all over to your own house just to send a little lovin’ back their way.

Last night, Patrick and I chose this for dinner:  To share…FORMAGGI MISTI: schiacciata(tuscan flatbread) with olive oil, potato, shaved asparagus, pepper pecorino and 2 ducks eggs over easy.

Patrick’s main…PORCHETTA: oven roasted suckling pig with dried apricots, sauteed spinach and soft polenta

My main…GNUDI:pulled crab, chicory, mint, lemon presh peas, semolina ricotta

shared side:  PISELLI ALLA FIORENTINA: peas with prosciutto, onion, rosemary, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Along with a couple a beautiful glasses of wine, we were satiated and happy.

Food allows us to re-centre, to have a break in our days.  Beautifully prepared food, delivered with care and joy elevates the event to the spiritual.  When I had my cafe, I was constantly humbled by customers that allowed me to nourish them; especially those that were visibly suffering from life-threatening disease.  I fed many who had the courage to get out, when the mirror probably told them to stay in bed.  These are the people who continue to inspire me.

While our family is healthy and safe, we know the importance of re-fueling.  At Tutti Matti you will genuinely be inspired by the kitchen, and humbly grateful for their attention.  It’s why we go back.  It’s why we know that every single person in that restaurant goes back.  We are all one.

Picton and its bounty

It is rare that one is happy to wake-up to an over-cast day; however, after the scorcher yesterday, we were quite happy to have the sun behind a thick blanket of clouds.  A delicious breakfast at the Claramount Inn, a couple of hours to read and relax, then on to the spa.  Does life get better?
It does if you choose to venture forth along Hwy 33 from Picton through to Bloomfield and then Wellington.  A gorgeous, pastoral scene along the highway to my right highlighted the crops, hay and wheat looking good, beans and corn having a tough year.  On my left, were constant views of the Lake.  You will see frequent signs that announce Prince Edward County as Proudly Loyalist…even a couple of Union Jacks!  It is not hard to envision the time when this area was settled.  The majority of the homes along the way date back to the first settlers.  It is obvious that the area was bustling and prosperous from the outset.  You will also notice the modest, colonial cottages, that have been for the most part maintained.  Finally, there are new homes completing the architectural impression.  One thing is for sure, whether big or small, pride of ownership is evident.  Homes and business alike are tasteful and carry a traditional British vibe.
We cruised along the highway for a pre-determined lunch at a waterside inn.  Again, with the sun in hiding, and a steady breeze off the lake, we found lunch to be just as soothing as the morning spa.
Off to check out wine country, Prince Edward County style!  Admittedly, Pat and I were dubious 10 years ago when we heard about the growing wine industry, but have heard so many wonderful stories of vacationing here, strolling the towns and visiting the wineries, that we wanted to check it out for ourselves.
Whether you are a lover of the grape or not, does not matter.  You can just enjoy a day following the wine route guide which will allow you to freely meander through the quiet countryside just as if in horse and buggy 100 years ago….that is to say, once you find yourself off of the 2 lane highway, you are then usually on roads that seem to prefer one car…I felt like we were in rural France.  Then came the wineries and fields of lavender!  So pretty.
One stop that made a big impression was Clossen Chase.  After a casual drive for 7 km, down a scenic road(o’k everything is scenic here!)…we found ourselves at a renovated barn that houses a gallery, reception hall and tasting centre.  We were welcomed by shrubs of lavender and full gardens.  In we went to find some stunning wines….Even though we loved the chardonnays, and bought a couple of pinot noirs…we were disappointed that the reds were served so warm.  The staff was apologetic, obviously not her fault, but considering the fact that Clossen Chase positions itself as a premier winery, it seemed incongruous.  Never-the-less, we greatly enjoyed the tasting and the opportunity to be in a well designed barn renovation that in spirit supports the activities of the vineyards.
Down the road we went to a lavender farm.  A girlfriend of mine recommended this to us, and since her lavender garden is stellar, I thought that we would pop in; plus the gentle fragrance was wafting through the car as we drove along, even before we got there…seemingly sending out the personal invitation.  What a great addition to our day.  The farm grows many varieties of lavender, each with their own characteristic colour, stems, size, and bloom.  I enjoyed a brief lesson on the options and selected 10 plants to bring back to my own garden.  I have been buying fewer annuals because of expense and also the plastic containers that may not get recycled.  I have been gradually making my gardens and planters perennial and appropriate for our growing conditions.  Lavender is perfect for many locations.  It can be hedge-like, or bushy, compact or sizeable.  It is showy and useful and it requires little water or care, except for trim in the fall.  I especially enjoyed hearing , then seeing the busy bees working in the fields.  Our bee population is dramatically decreasing, and planting bee and butterfly friendly options not only makes me feel like I have done good, but more importantly, I have done good for continuing to expand the options for our super pollinators.  If our bees die, and our crops and trees don’t get pollinated…..guess what happens???….It’s not good.
I leave you for another day.   As always, support your local businesses, check out native growings; viniferous or otherwise, and participate at a grass-roots level in making good decisions for you, and your environment.

Water

High humidity, high heat, water….too much, too little and we are cranky.  Or, is that just me and my hormones talking?

Today we had a gorgeous drive along The Loyalist Parkway from Kingston to Picton.  Water flanking both sides of the road in spots; we gratefully received the strong breeze from the Bay of Quinte on the ferry over from mainland. I always feel like a kid again, when I get out of the car, to watch the waves from the deck of a ferry.

After we arrived at our accommodations at “The Claremont Inn”, we couldn’t wait to explore the picturesque town of Picton.  It was 38 degrees.  As we walked increasingly slower, block by block, our intention of exploring the town on foot, fell quickly by the wayside.   We were overly excited to find a convenience store from which to purchase water!  Wow!  You’d have thought that a divining rod was required with the thrill that find produced!  

Normally standing behind someone “cashing in” their 30 or 40 lottery tickets would have bothered us…but today, full of sweat and heat-induced fatigue, we were happy to stand in the air-conditioned store, waiting to pay for our liquid gold…Back into the car, armed with water and map, we decide to find a park, a tree and maps to work on tomorrows plan.  With any luck, and a break in the weather we will be outside tomorrow, looking first-hand at Lake Ontario and its various bays; instead of looking at them through the window of our car or the pictures in a travel guide!  Hope springs eternal:)

From Gods Country to The Kingston Pen via the CBC

Pat and I drove from our house to Kingston today.  No traffic to speak of, clear sunny day and the CBC.  Here is what I learned:
From Clinton to Winthrop:  I still love Jian Ghomeshi...well just his voice…even though it is digitally altered:(…its true!
From Winthrop to Kitchener: the hilarious “Debators”, where I heard that drinking coffee was like having your brother burp in your mouth(I did not make that up!) vs. tea was like a hummingbird softly caressing your tongue(I wished I made that one up!)
From Kitchener to Milton:On the Noon Phone -In: Obese people blame their parents for their weight
Milton to Pickering: Eleanor Walktel:  Christopher Plummer is a highly skilled, articulate and funny actor who is a true ambassador for Canada and he likes to drink alot…he said so
From Pickering to Trenton: various news items including: People young and old a-like, continue to boat without life jackets, even when they do not know how to swim.
Which brings us to Kingston, my old stompin’ ground:  I am breaking the law under The Criminal Code by walking around naked in my house.  Who knew?!

And on that note; Happy Wednesday!

Food and clothes wrapped up in small town wonder

Thornbury, Ontario is a small town on the shores of Georgian Bay.  Most people are familiar with its neighbour down the highway, Collingwood.  I prefer Thornbury because it has everything you would want as a visitor or resident, but without the hassles of living in a busy tourist recreational hub.

At a glance you would think that Thornbury has the highest independent retail and restaurant diversity per capita than any place else in the country.  I have yet to be disappointed with any of the restaurants or shops since happening upon the town fifteen years ago.

Our routine is to go for lunch first, then check out the shops.  Sunday we went to The Mill Cafe.  A renovation was just completed 3 weeks ago and it is sharp.  The Mill has long been a Thornbury favorite, and after receiving so many happy diners over the years, it is really great to have a fresh look.  I felt like it was a gift to the customers.  No doubt it will reap the rewards.

There are large pieces of original artwork by a local artist and with the pop of green on all seating it gives the impression of whimsy, but also skill and thought.  The design of the restaurant is much more open now, and it also gives you the impression that you are being welcomed into someone’s personal space.  That is not always so easy to accomplish.  Quite often an open space seem cold, but this is pure comfort and fun as you can watch the chefs in the open kitchen, keep an eye on the drinks that you ordered at the bar(or the regulars!), or enjoy some people watching. I would describe the food as a solid take on old favorites.  Anyone can find something to enjoy on this menu, from the food snob to the most conservative eater.  My husband had the pulled pork back rib sandwich, we shared the yellow and red beet salad, and I had the mini back ribs with chimichurri sauce.  Yum!  Now well fed, we are off to…

Without a doubt my favorite place to shop for clothes.  It doesn’t matter what I have bought, when I wear something from Furbelows, I receive compliments.
I love the fact that what you find here, except for the basics, you will not find anywhere else.  Jane, the owner, loves to bring in lines from small labels in North America as well as Europe.  This means that she cherry picks the clothes that come into the store, and therefore creates something akin to your own closet…varied, mix of high and low, and always interesting!  I love a clothing store that has mirrors in and out of the dressing room….sometimes you just don’t want to leave the room with a really bad piece of clothing on.  Furbelows has the best staff at a clothing store that I have ever come across.  They are not only fashionable each in their own way, they know their stuff.  They know every item in the store.  They also know when to tell you to “put and item back”;) or when to take you out of your comfort zone in order to go from “nice” to “awesome”.   If you want awesome, you want Furbelows.
On Sunday, I left with new (fall!) boots, skinny cargo jeans, long tank, and a cardigan(which looks like a piece of art in and of itself).  As I was at the counter paying, I spied this dress on the manikin, and after one more quick change, it was added to my stash for the day…the only I regret, is not buying the necklace with it!  Oh well, next time:)

love what you do

I love people that love what they do!  It can be the woman at the MAC make-up counter who is clearly excited to show an old gal like me some new tricks, the plumber that hooks up the latest water feature for our bathroom, or someone like Stacie Constantine.  Stacie opened The Kimberley General Store last year in the hamlet of Kimberley, On….population 92.  This includes the dozen or so seasonal residents like us!

Residents and seasonals to this area were so excited about this that you would have thought that we were collectively launching a mission to Mars.  You see, Kimberley is the little spot on the hwy that you slowly drive-through on your way someplace else.  I mention the speed because there is an unspoken respect for this little place that seems to encourage people to slow down, smile and get in their groove.  Transports slow down well before so as not to use air brakes, as do frenzied parents carrying car-loads of excited children to nearby Collingwood for ski races.  We are fortunate to have a small ski house close by.  We are especially fortunate to have Stacie among us.

Why am I so enamoured with The Kimberley General Store?  It could be that my own cookshop and cafe was housed in a similar 150 year old building, it could be that Stacie is stocking her shop with food grown by local purveyors, or it could be simply that Stacie’s warm nature and heartfelt enthusiasm for her store, is what makes us all want to buy every grocery possible just to support her.  She is as her store reflects; earthy, interesting, welcoming, whimsical and attractive;)

This was my beautiful lunch made by Stacie…..dessert was spectacular!

While you are out-and-about this weekend…hell, every day….make sure to take the time to visit the small independent businesses that continue to bring beauty and authenticity to our lives.  We are privileged to live in a country that allows and encourages free expression and whether it comes in the form of the written word, the clothes we wear or those shop-keepers and restauranteurs that continue to remind us of the importance of what is real; they deserve our support.

Look past the big box stores and you will find the experience of shopping is much more gratifying.  Suddenly, you go back in time where people really do matter.  Every penny spent in an independent shop is money well spent.  You are in fact, saying with those pennies that you care about their business, about them and for the effort to facilitate genuine human interaction.  Their presence in our communities enriches us.  In return for their efforts to live and work in a way that matches their philosophy; please drop by, buy something:), say something encouraging and spread the word!  Stacie Rocks!  Pass it on!!!