My guide to boss travel: Introduction

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

When you’re stuck at your desk at lunchtime, it can seem like half of the people you scroll past in your social media feeds are travelling somewhere amazing. The other half are squee-ing over a kitten, puppy or child, but that’s another thing entirely.

If you want to travel more often, but don’t know where to start, buckle up. As someone who isn’t truly happy unless I’m planning my next trip, I’ve got some tried-and-tested tips to share with you. Soon you’ll be posting your own fab photos of your next big adventure or little getaway.

I can’t do anything about your budget, but I can help you break trip planning down into manageable steps so that you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by logistics, discover tools to find good deals, and give you ways to cut the drama and enjoy yourself.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many people (who tell me that I travel too much) tend to completely dismiss the idea of travelling without doing any research or math – they just tell themselves it’s impossible and leave it at that. That might be true, but have you ever thought to create a breakdown of the actual costs? You might be surprised. Or you might not be, depending on your obligations and other priorities.

This weekly series will walk you through everything you need to know and do for a great holiday. My travel focus, and true love, is the cities of Europe, so most of my advice will be geared towards North Americans travelling to the UK and the continent. But a lot of this advice will also be handy for shorter trips closer to home.

Keep an eye out for posts on the next six Fridays, including:

  1. Deciding where to go, and when
  2. Who’s joining you?
  3. Time to dream
  4. Sorting out the boring stuff
  5. In transit
  6. Your trip, your way

6 lessons from a reread of the ‘Anne’ series

Trailing_arbutus_2006

A Mayflower – Anne’s favourite first sign of spring. Photo credit, Justin Russell – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1337522

Ugh. I had to wash ‘Anne with an E’ out of my brain recently – I watched with fascinated horror as the show veered further and further away from a sweet, wholesome story of the transformative power of love into a nightmarish concoction that should have been left untold.

Many of the casting choices were spot on, and the opening credits are a beautiful dream that makes my throat seize up just a little. It’s painful that the show went so wrong after such perfection:

I’m not alone. After my Netflix binge, I read reviews to feel better, and cursed myself for coming to the series without any advance knowledge. Vanity Fair, Anne of Green Gables: Netflix’s Bleak Adaptation Gets It All So Terribly Wrong and VoxAnne With an E turns Anne of Green Gables into a high gothic tragedy, missing the point, have done a brilliant job of articulating how deflated I felt by the end.

There was only one thing to do – return to the books.

You can find the series in the children’s section of any bookstore, but I don’t think they belong there. Ok, so it’s not Ulysses, but the reading comprehension level has not been dumbed down one bit – a genuine respect for readers of all ages. A quick dip into Wikipedia confirms that Anne of Green Gables wasn’t originally considered a children’s novel – that classification only arrived in the mid 20th century. If you’ve never read any of the books before, don’t let that stop you. There’s a reason Prince Edward Island is always flooded with fans from around the world.

I’m halfway through Anne of Ingleside right now, the stories are veering off into those of Anne’s young children, and you can tell, ever so slightly, that L.M. Montgomery is starting to phone it in. But she is still a masterful storyteller and depictor of the human condition, even when she’s not fully engaged. And you need to get to know those kids for the final book of the series, set during the first world war.

My latest read has been a wonderful escape back into the Victorian and Edwardian eras, rural Canadian-style, and I do think life would truly be better if everyone occasionally asked themselves, ‘What would Anne do?’ Even her famous temper only flared up when someone was treating her badly.

  1. Pay attention to the beauty of the natural world. When things are not going well, and even when they are, take yourself to nature whenever you can. Draw strength, happiness and peace from it.
  2. Disagreeable people have always existed. I would love to know who inspired Josie Pye, Aunt Atossa and Aunt Mary Maria, such horrors on the page but yet, they remind me of a few people I know… Even Anne, one of the most positive, cheeriest heroines ever written, limits her exposure to such people when she can. When she can’t, she grits her teeth and keeps her own counsel.
  3. Tomorrow is a new day. With no mistakes in it.
  4. Bring something positive to the world, even if it’s only your own upbeat attitude. Some of my favourite people remind me of Anne – they light up every room they enter, ‘bringing happiness with them like a gift’. One is even named Annie – perhaps an unusual take on nominative determinism?  
  5. Take time to relax, to play, to do something fun, to do nothing but dream.
  6. Clothes are very important. Anne says so. Take that, Calvinists!

Learning more about wine

rose

When in doubt, a cheeky rose.

It’s fading now. I don’t work there anymore (a lingering sadness), and I live in a place where 99% of my friends have no idea what the LCBO is.

It’s the only good thing about no longer working on the publications for Ontario’s largest (and in many parts of Ontario, only) retailer of wine and spirits – nobody’s uncomfortable drinking wine with me. No more do I have to hear the slightly neurotic, self-effacing ‘well, I don’t know much about wine, but…’ preamble to ordering a glass, a half-litre, a bottle. You guys, even in Toronto I wasn’t sitting there, judging you. Sheesh!

How could I?  Why would I?

Moving to England ripped me away from that glorious job less than a year in. Although they started me on the path of developing tasting skills and product knowledge, it was clear from day one that the buyers and writers’ depth and breadth of knowledge was honed by years of experience, study and excellent wine-tasting skills. I especially liked the story meetings, where they would sketch out the wine regions and wines chosen for the feature articles.

I did learn how to daintily spit into a spittoon, however. It will be a handy skill when I resume my formal studies with WSET.

Wine tasting takes skill and practice, but it’s much like learning a new language. And like a language, some pick it up faster than others. But at the end of the day all that matters is how YOU feel about the wine YOU’RE drinking.

In Ontario, it’s simple – go to your local LCBO and pick up a copy of VINTAGES. Or, ask the Product Consultant on duty for advice. Take advantage of the vast amount of training they’ve completed, and the bi-weekly tastings they attend, where they try every single newly arrived wine. Give them your budget, the food you’re pairing it with, and a bit of an idea of what types of wines you like. Don’t be afraid to wander into the Vintages section! There are some excellent value wines there, not just the expensive stuff.

As much as I like being able to buy wine and beer almost anywhere here in the UK, I do miss the LCBO’s huge selection and nearly boundless information. It’s a bit piecemeal here, and I always feel a bit lost when I’m in the grocery store and see bottles I don’t recognize. I do like the convenience though, when they carry exactly what I’m after and I can just plop it into my cart along with my other groceries.

groceries

OK, so it’s whisky but my point still stands

But I recently stumbled upon the joys of Majestic Wine, the closest retail experience yet to my beloved LCBO. Friendly, knowledgeable service, in-store tastings, and free delivery if you buy at least six bottles. I have a feeling we are about to become much better acquainted.

So. Allora.

You can use any or all of these resources, or, you can choose to just drink what you like, and not worry so damn much about what others might think. If you’re drinking something awesome, google it and read the tasting notes. Buy it again. Or don’t. Life’s too short.

I’ve collected a few links, but this is just the edge of the rabbit hole you could tumble down.

Wine | Life and style | The Guardian This is my UK go-to when I need to buy a specific bottle.

The New York Times – Wine School Maybe a bit advanced, but I like how this is set up.

Globe Life | Wine & Spirits Love the ‘Ask a Wine Expert’ column.

The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO  I first grabbed this book off the bargain table at Book City – what a find! Updated yearly. Ontario readers: if tracking down a copy of this book is your only takeaway from this post, you’re still going to build wine confidence and save money.

Wine | Kitchn  This one might throw you off depending on when you click on the link, but their wine section includes everything from recipes that call for wine as one of the ingredients, to posts more like this: Your Happy Hour Formula: Wine + Snack Pairings for $20 or Under.

First We Feast – Drink  You’ll learn just as much about beer and spirits as you will about wine here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to dash off to Aldi for some of that silver medallist winning rosé, The Exquisite Collection Côtes De Provence 2016, for £5.99.

The Arnold Palmer – Iced Tea Lemonade

iced tea lemonade

Yes, the clichés and jokes are true. An English ‘summer’, especially here in the North, is definitely something to get used to.

I had my suspicions over the years, when the Observer Food Monthly section would post hearty recipes that involved time in the oven or on the stovetop, even in July. I remember last year’s summer – I  wore a cardigan or a jacket a lot, on the many grey cloudy days that struggled to surpass 20 degrees (celsius).

In contrast, most Toronto and New York City publications are filled with no-cook or minimum-cook recipes and suggestions (even I had one published!), knowing that no city dweller in their right mind turns their stove on from June until September. It’s all barbecue, salads and cold soups. Or lovely picnic meals made up of store-bought potato salad, hummus and pita, cut veggies and maybe a few paper thin slices of prosciutto and ragged, torn buffalo mozzarella.

But we do sometimes get beautiful sunny weather here, made all the more special by its very rareness. I learned last year that May is often the very nicest month of all – the days start to stretch out like epic films, you can sit in a beer garden in a twilight that seems to hang around for hours, and everything green grows like crazy. And if you’re out on the moors, you can start to feel almost hobbit-like. Especially if you stop at a country pub for a little something to ‘fill up the corners’.

Roundhay Park

As a hardened veteran of Toronto heatwaves, the random ‘hot’ days we get here are easily met with my three-point plan:

  • Wear something linen
  • Eat cold foods
  • Drink Arnold Palmers (aka Iced Tea Lemonade)

I owe a debt of gratitude to Making Lemonade – Carrie perfectly cracked the formula for Starbucks’ Shaken Iced Tea Lemonade. My sleepy village in north Leeds doesn’t have a Starbucks, so I would have to go into town to get one otherwise.

The Arnold Palmer is named after the famous American golfer. It’s really a simple case of ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ – a woman overheard him ordering iced tea with lemonade and asked for one too, calling it ‘that Palmer drink’. If we want to get pedantic, The Arnold Palmer is actually 3 parts iced tea to 1 part lemonade, and when the two parts are equal, some Americans call it a Half & Half. There is something very American about this drink – it has that preppy East Coast, boat shoes, seersucker, Breton stripes and Wayfarers as you summer in the Hamptons feel about it.

While you do need to plan and make the components in advance, it will be well worth it when you’re sipping what’s, in my opinion, one of the most refreshing drinks on the planet.

The recipe

Start by making a simple syrup to flavour your lemonade, and if you like, your final beverage as well. There are many of detailed recipes out there, but really, it’s just heating an amount of water in a saucepan until it’s almost at the boil, then adding the same amount of granulated sugar (a 1:1 ratio) and stirring until it’s completely dissolved. Let cool and then decant into a clean jar, where you can store it, covered, in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I went with 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar, but that’s only because I ran out sugar.

Move on to the iced tea. Steep 2 bags of your favourite black tea (I’ve used Twinings English Breakfast) for 2 minutes in one litre of hot water, fresh off the boil. Let cool on the counter, then place in the fridge to chill.

Now for the lemonade. Mix 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice to one litre of cold water. Add in simple syrup to taste. I added 3 teaspoons, but I don’t like my drinks very sweet. Place in the fridge to chill.

Here comes the fun part. If you have a cocktail shaker, use it. My big glass measuring cup does just fine. Throw in some ice cubes, then pour over a 3/4 cup of the iced tea and a 3/4 cup of the lemonade. Shake or stir briefly and pour, ice and all, into a pint glass, or a Tom Collins glass if you’re fancy.

If you like your drinks sweeter, add more simple syrup to taste before pouring. I don’t bother – part of what makes it refreshing is that it doesn’t have a cloying sweetness like so many other cold drinks. If you want yours with a little kick, bourbon’s your dance partner.

In praise of an in-use kitchen

teacups with lemon

Dirty dishes next to the sink, clean dishes in the drying rack. Jars of cinnamon and toasted, chopped pecans waiting to anoint my daily bowl of oatmeal. Small, red tomatoes ready to be halved and tossed with shredded basil, extra virgin olive oil and a smidge of salt. A pudding basin filled with apples. All the half-drunk bottles of whiskies we’ve been collecting. A new type of cracker meant for my plan to recreate Starbucks’ Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box. Bottles of nutritional supplements that have at least a fighting chance of being taken daily if I can see ’em. Onions, garlic, ginger. A lemon. Salt. Pepper. A potbellied brown teapot I almost never use, despite the fact that everyone who crosses the threshold gets a cup of tea. Two-litre bottles of fizzy mineral water to quaff instead of Diet Coke. Foil, cling film and parchment paper on top of the microwave. A hand blender for smoothies that I never bother to unplug. Pillow-soft rolls just waiting to be packed with homemade chicken salad. A toaster that could be unplugged and put away now that I’ve forsworn Nutella. A row of bone-china mugs filled with steaming hot lemon water ahead of a scrubbing with baking soda to remove tannin stains.

A small table with cookbooks, wedding invitations, poll cards for the upcoming election, a basket of clothespins, and a 10% off card for my next visit to Ham & Friends. Everything shoved out of the way to make room for the laptop. A load of whites quietly swishing in the washing machine. A cat in my lap, now frightened of the jet-like noises emanating from the spin cycle but unwilling to admit it.

I’ve made my peace with the fact that my kitchen will never resemble something in a TV commercial. Oh yes, we make spasmodic attempts at getting the chaos under control, but hey – LIFE is being lived in here. And from doing silly online quizzes I’ve realized that I am visual learner, and ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is my truth.

Sticky pork belly

IMG_4455

With one or both of us rattling around the house more often than we would have done during our harried, hectic corporate life in Toronto, I’ve been able to explore different approaches to cooking. My small fridge and ridiculously tiny freezer mean I’ve given up my old weekend standby of cooking large portions of soups, stews and Bolognese sauce for freezing, but now I have daily access to a couple of good, if very different, local grocery stores.

In my grandest version of myself, I can industriously whip up this marinade for pork belly in the morning before starting work and eat these slow-cooked, succulent slices of heaven soon after logging off for the day.

I recommend counting up the hours necessary for this recipe – if you want to eat by 6:30 pm, start no later than 11:00 am.

4 hour minimum (or overnight) marinade +
2 hours roasting (baste at 1 hour mark) +
20 minutes (approx) to reduce marinade after roasting +
20 minutes blast in a hotter oven after brushing on reduced marinade +
20 minute rest, covered with foil (this is when I steam bok choy and cook rice) = 7 hours

Adapted from BBC Good Food, I’ve halved the amounts for the marinade but feel free to double them if you are cooking for a gang. Eat with steamed bok choy and a scoop of Thai rice for a simple, peaceful supper.

500 grams pork belly
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
1.5 tbsp clear honey
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
1 cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated

In a large glass bowl mix together the marinade ingredients, add pork, making sure the marinade is coating it well, cover with cling film and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight. You can also mix your marinade together in a glass measuring jug, place the pork belly slices in a large resealable bag and pour the marinade over before squishing and massaging and placing in the fridge.

Turning your oven to 160°C or 140°C fan (325°F), line a roasting tray with foil and transfer the pork and the marinade to the tray, pouring 50 ml of water over it. Cover with more foil and roast for 2 hours, basting at the 1 hour mark. Take pork out after 2 hours and increase oven temperature by 40°C – the new temperature will be 200°C or 180°C fan (400°F).

Remove pork slices to a plate, and carefully pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Cook the marinade until it becomes thick and syrupy (about 20 minutes). Place the pork back in the foil-lined pan and brush some of the now sticky marinade over it, and roast uncovered at the new high temperature for 20 minutes. The marinade should be caramelised in some spots. Take pork out, cover with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Venice

grand-canal-from-guggenheim

Oh Venice. I resisted you for so long, but a little voice told me to go. So we did. I’m glad I listened.

The resistance came from a lifetime of generalisations, of other people’s stories of a hot, smelly, overpriced Venice completely taken over by hoards of tourists disgorging from cruise ships. And Venice had always seemed like the biggest travel cliché, ever. How could it possibly live up to all the hype?

Then I watched the Venice episode of Travel Man. Richard Ayoade and Jo Brand were wearing coats, scarves and cozy, warm hats while eating cicchetti and gelato, or learning how to row gondolas. Wintertime. That was the answer. An answer this introverted misanthrope is almost loathe to share. But hey, my readership is miniscule so I figure any Venetians hoping for winter peace and quiet will continue unmolested by my rapturous praise.

We had a wonderful stay at Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo – a small, well-priced hotel I’m certain we’d never have managed to snap up in a busier season. In the San Polo district, it was a very short walk to everything, mere metres from the San Stae vaporetto (waterbus) station, and our hosts were friendly and anxious to make sure our stay was a blissful one. Our luxurious room’s decor wouldn’t have been out of place in the Doge’s Palace; golden green silk-panelled walls, a gilt headboard and heavy, opulent curtains over windows that looked out into an ancient courtyard.

Armchair Travel
For stunning photos, check out National Geographic‘s Venice Photos  and Harper’s Bazaar‘s 20 PHOTOS THAT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO BOOK A FLIGHT TO VENICE. (ALL CAPS necessary, therefore not removed)

We referred to Design Sponge‘s 24 Hours in Venice, Italy again and again. It steered us toward great areas that we might not have thought to visit.

Want more specifics on food, drinks and fun? Continue reading