Archive for October, 2011

October 26, 2011

The Great Dessert Search, Edition No. 4: Le Bremner Jelly Doughnuts

Jelly Doughnuts - Le Bremner Montreal

At Le Bremner, the Jelly Doughnuts come in chocolate, lemon and fruity jam flavours. (Julia Pelish photo)

MONTREAL — Soft, sugary, sweet and so guilt-inducing they’ll sentence you to the gym for a week, at least. The Jelly Doughnuts at the most talked about new restaurant in Montreal, if not Canada, are deliriously tasty, as well as a reminder that Le Bremner is a fun, casual place, no matter all the buzz about it and its celeb chef.

The doughnuts come three to a plate, each filled with a different creamy, gooey centre. These are Timbits on steroids — and after a serious retool in a masterful kitchen. Whether it’s the chocolate, lemon or fruity jam flavour, the Le Bremner doughnuts satisfy your craving for sweets and do it in a way that’ll make you smile — which is what a great dessert should do. It’s a playful dish, as well as a delicious one.

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October 25, 2011

New addition makes this Montreal museum the best in Canada

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A view of the Paviliion of Quebec and Canadian Art seen from inside the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion across the street. ©Julia Pelish Photography

[First published on Vacay.ca, a new site dedicated to Canadian travel experiences.]

MONTREAL — Even before its newest wing, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offered visitors an excellent review of Canadian and international painting. What the two-week-old Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art accomplishes, however, is so tremendous it hoists this attraction to the top, making it the best museum in Canada. Hands-down.

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October 19, 2011

On Galapagos Islands, humans bring wealth and danger

santa cruz galapagos islands

Boat activity is bustling on the shores of Santa Cruz, the most populous of the Galapagos Islands. (Julia Pelish photo)

PUERTO AYORA, SANTA CRUZ, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR — Yvonne Mórtola walks down Avendida Charles Darwin with a frown. One white Toyota pick-up truck after another passes down this two-lane asphalt road in the most populous city of the Galapagos Islands. Engine revs and muffler coughs have suffocated the sounds of nature that so signify these protected islands off the Ecuadorean coast. No longer is it easy for Santa Cruz residents like Mórtola to stand on a street corner of Avendida Charles Darwin and hear waves lapping, finches’ chirps or sea lion barks.

“This used to be a dirt road,” says Mórtola, a top-level Ecuador National Parks Service naturalist who works as a guide for tour operator Ecoventura. “I used to be able to throw a Frisbee to my dog down here, but I can’t do that anymore. It just isn’t safe on the road.”

While 97 percent of the islands are protected by the parks, it’s what’s happened to the other 3 percent that worries Mórtola and others concerned about the environment on the Galapagos. In the 1990s, migrants arrived looking to get in on one of the world’s oddest commodity booms. Call it the Great Sea Cucumber Rush. The marine animal that helps clean oceans of bacteria, algae and waste is highly coveted by the Chinese and Japanese as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. With an abundance of sea cucumbers, the Galapagos became a focal point for the trade. Fishermen could get $1 per sea cucumber and reports said that 10,000 sea cucumbers would be shipped daily from the Galapagos. Those fishermen could sometimes catch in an hour enough sea cucumbers with an equivalent value of a week’s worth of traditional fishing.

Mórtola, who has lived on the islands for more than a quarter-century, says she remembers prostitutes on Santa Cruz earning so much money during the height of the boom that “they would light their cigarettes with $10 bills.”

The population of Santa Cruz rose nearly four-fold, reaching 10,000 before the government passed a unique policy called the Galapagos Resident Law, which states that no one can live on the islands unless they were born there, married someone who resides there or could prove they worked there prior to 1998, the year the law was enacted. Still, the population of Santa Cruz has continued to grow, reaching 16,500 as of the last census and Puerto Ayora is at 12,000 people. In recent years, the government has been expelling thousands of illegal, undocumented migrants from the island.

“You look at Santa Cruz, and it used to be a very nice community,” says Pablo Jaramillo, the captain of Eric, Ecoventura’s recently renovated yacht, and a resident of San Cristobal, the second most populous island (8,000). “But there are too many people now. You do not even know your neighbour in some cases.”

READ ‘GALAPAGOS TRAVEL TIPS: WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GO’

More lush than the other 12 main islands in the chain, Santa Cruz is home to the Darwin Research Station, where the giant tortoise population is being rehabilitated in a huge undertaking that involves such careful incubation of eggs that researchers can create the sex they want by manipulating the temperature. When the incubator is set to 29.5 Celsius degrees, females will be born. At 28 Celsius, a male will hatch. With the species needing to grow, more females are being created at the station.

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October 15, 2011

Occupy Toronto fails to deliver practical solutions

occupy toronto protest october 15

Plenty of signs filled St. James Park during the Occupy Toronto protest.

Occupy Toronto is a dud, so far.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, about 1,500 people were stationed in St. James Park, and I’d say one-third of them had to have been media types. More cameras were in hand than at a TIFF after-party as protesters carried signs declaring doom for banks and unity for the 99 percent of the world that doesn’t control the majority of wealth.

The photo opportunities were plenty. The advancement of practical solutions? Not so much. From the handful of people I spoke to in the park, the perception seems to be that workers need to take over the economic system, a view that’s out of step with the beliefs of most Canadians and one that shows a lack of acceptance that extreme socialism has failed just as the extreme form of capitalism practiced in the United States has collapsed.

At the north end of the park behind St. James Cathedral, one speaker after another took to a microphone to deride an economic system that benefits a small number of oligarchs who have made it nearly impossible for all others to attain an education or a home without being shackled with debt. Yet, calls for cannibalizing the rich, re-distributing the wealth through thievery and usurping Parliament Hill don’t do anything to solve the problem. Worthwhile prescriptions for the economy were present by some speakers, including a man who pointed out that Argentina bounced back from a disaster far worse than what the U.S. and even Greece is going through. In 2002, 60 percent of Argentines were living below the poverty line, now the level is 30 percent (it’s 9.4 percent in Canada) and unemployment is at less than 8 percent. Argentina’s rebound wasn’t simple, but it provides evidence that the world is not doomed and that economies do resuscitate, even if the rebound is painfully slow.

occupy toronto st james park

This guy said he was collecting money for the homeless, not to get a better fake Stanley Cup.

What no one at Occupy Toronto and few in the global movement have addressed, however, is the real threat to wages in the western world: The shift in economic clout to China and India. What do you do when suppliers divert their focus from you to a market on the other side of the world? You watch jobs go where the consumers are, you see salaries shrink here while over there they rise, you discover your skills need to compete against billions of people and not just whoever’s in your local job market.

That hard-to-locate hope everyone in the Occupy Together movement wants for future generations exists in Shanghai and Goa. The truth is, the folks at St. James Park who don’t like capitalists are learning that capitalists care less and less for us too. We don’t have the projected spending power of China and India. Our best chance for the future is to accept that we must service those two countries with energy, agriculture and technology.

All the Guy Fawkes in Toronto, New York and London can band together and tear down capitalism and it still won’t change the law of supply and demand.

WHY THE SMALL TURNOUT?

It’s cold, windy and wet, which probably dampened the number of people who came to the protest on Saturday. The other cause for the anemic numbers, though, has to do with the relative health of the Canadian economy.

“We don’t have financial institutions in Canada that failed, that cost taxpayers money,” finance minister Jim Flaherty told the CBC. “The situation in Canada, thank goodness, is better than that and our unemployment rate is significantly better than that of the Americans.”

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October 14, 2011

Galapagos Island travel tip: Don’t expect a vacation

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Blue-footed boobies and their adorable chicks are among the wildlife that can only be seen on the Galapagos Islands. (Julia Pelish photo)

SAN CRISTOBAL, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR — They come. Nikon-necked boobies, Timberland-sandaled grey-bearded enviro cats, North Face-clothed soft-core adventure seekers. They come by the planeload, arriving in greater numbers than ever. And more and more of them come without knowing exactly what they’re in for.

A trip to the Galapagos Islands turned out to be as fascinating and rewarding and fun an adventure as I have ever had. But it was no vacation.

You’re here to learn and the teachers are naturalists fiercely devoted to the islands and the ideal that the word “Galapagos” has come to signify during the past century and a half. You will not be comfortable: the boat will rock, sometimes with enough force to cause your stomach to somersault; the 44-pound luggage limit will mean choosing between packing more pants or more socks and underwear (go with the latter); hikes will sometimes force you over terrain rocky enough to wreck ankles. You will be requested to do feats that will make you frown, if not cringe and swear under your breath: Navy showers (lather up, soak in lukewarm water, shut off the tap, repeat) are supposed to be taken onboard to limit the amount of water used; toilet paper isn’t to be flushed, it’s to be placed in a waste-paper basket for disposal by the housekeeper; wake-up calls can come as early as 5:45 a.m.; depending on the loudness of the motor and the temperament of the waves, sleep may not come at all.

Yet, when the trip is done, you just might walk away thinking you’ve had an experience that tops all others before it. But you have to be curious and you have to know you won’t be lounging on a beach with mojito in hand and a tiki bar within reach. Food isn’t allowed on shore excursions and neither are alcoholic beverages, although there is an ample supply onboard your boat. While the islands are filled with animals that won’t so much as flutter as you approach, the Galapagos isn’t a petting zoo and touching is off-limits.

So, where’s all the fun? Part of it is in the discovery of the place and in the camaraderie you build with the group you discover it with. Part of it is in the enchantment you acquire for the wildlife, whose personalities make you remember childhood and the anthropomorphic qualities we attributed to them. Much of it is simply in the indulgence of being here. The isolation is stark. On many instances, I caught myself listening to the wind, often a bluster that seemed to exist to remind us we were still on earth. The sunsets are special, with the big yellow ball escaping below the wide-open horizon with no land westward until you hit the Hawaiian islands — 7,600 kilometres away. And there’s the real reason why someone should make this trip: The opportunity to be educated.

READ ABOUT ‘THE GALAPAGOS OF THE NORTH’

You’ll learn about our planet and the animals and plants and birds and reptiles that occupy it. You’ll brush up on your Darwin and hook into the environmental importance of the 13 main islands. You’ll learn about the threat humans pose to the ecosystem and the harm we have already inflicted. To some degree or another, coverage of those topics is to be expected. The surprise, though, is the passion with which the naturalists distill the information.

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October 13, 2011

Doctor’s $11.5-million lawsuit could be Toronto’s reason to Occupy

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Dr. Jerry Green's lawsuit could bring a big and necessary shake up to Ontario's health-care system. (Julia Pelish photo)

You want to be part of the global uprising, Toronto? You want a reason to Occupy? Dr. Jerry Green gave you a voice in court room 802 on Wednesday morning, articulating in eloquent, heart-rendering words why you must fight a system that isn’t working for you, me, him or anyone else in this province. What’s wrong with Canada isn’t so much about what transpires on Bay Street. Our financial system is okay, relative to the rest of the world. Our medical system, on the other hand, is a mess. And there are people responsible for making it so who need to know right now that we won’t take it anymore.

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October 12, 2011

Huether Hotel is a treasure in downtown Waterloo

David Occhipinti at Jazz Room Waterloo

Guitarist David Occhipinti leads his trio at the newly opened Jazz Room. (Julia Pelish photo)

WATERLOO, ONTARIO — Sonia Adlys, all five feet of spunk of her, walks around the Huether Hotel near midnight and marvels at the place. She’s been working at the landmark building for 51 years, yet looks around it with the same expression of wonder one of her guests might wear when introduced to the Huether, a delightfully peculiar place with a distinctive sense of comfort and cool.

Adlys, her husband, Bernie, and their three sons and one daughter have turned the property at King and Princess Streets into one of the most eclectic and fun hangouts in Ontario. Like the Gladstone and Drake hotels in Toronto’s funky Queen West West neighbourhood, the Huether is a multi-purpose venue with a music hall, café, restaurant and bustling bar. Unlike those better-known hotels, the Huether has one unique and definitive plus: A family atmosphere that the Adlyses have cultivated.

“Someone in the family is here all the time and when we couldn’t be here, because we were at my son’s wedding, we made sure we had a police officer on duty the entire night so no minors would be served and things wouldn’t get out of hand,” says Sonia as she gives me a tour around the historic hotel in Waterloo’s wonderfully vibrant, surprisingly upscale downtown.

READ ABOUT THE DRAKE HOTEL

The Huether is the epicentre of nightlife for a range of the city’s residents, who move and mingle and meld in one another’s interests in a 12,000-plus-square-foot space. In the recently opened café, you’ll spot a 20-something working on a laptop while around the corner seniors tap their feet in the month-old Jazz Room. University kids fill the pool hall and beneath them dinner parties occupy the private dining cave that was excavated in 1987. Another adjacent, step-down dining room has tunnels that the Adlyses have boarded up. “I don’t know where those tunnels went, but this building was around during Prohibition and the Seagram’s facility was just nearby,” Adlys said, offering an explanation for one of the Huether’s curiosities.

Sonia Adlys of Huether Hotel

Sonia Adlys has worked at the Huether for more than a half century. (Julia Pelish photo)

During the week, Research in Motion executives hold business meetings in the upstairs restaurant called the Barley Works while office workers convene on the spacious patio. At the 2,000-square-foot main restaurant that’s been home to the Lion Brewery for decades, blue-collar workers throw back one of the Huether’s nine microbrews. More than 1,000 patrons can fit into the hotel at a time.

“We have so many different kinds of people who come in here,” Adlys said after I took in a recent Jazz Room performance from Juno Award nominee David Occhipinti. “It’s really part of the neighbourhood here.”

What you won’t find at the circa 1842 building that’s named after its original owners is a hotel guest. The Adlyses rent the property’s 16 rooms to students for a bargain rate of about $400 a month. If you’re thinking the Huether beats living in a residence dorm room, you’re ready to ace an exam on co-ed sociology.

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