A Sick Dog and a Missed Trip

I take all of my vacation time during the summer.  It’s road trip season after all so why wouldn’t I?  The dogs were in for their annual examinations and vaccinations.  Never mind the yard work; the yard would still be there when I returned.

The day after the dogs were at the vet, I noticed that Piper was shaking her head but since we were outside in a creek with a lot of bugs, I didn’t think much about it.  The head shaking continued and then two days later, I noticed a slight head tilt.  Crud maybe she was getting an ear infection.  I cleaned out her ears and hoped that it would sort itself out.

I work shift work and that week I was working nights.  It seems that all of my animals like to have their medical emergencies when I’m on nights.  I came home and found Piper stumbling around as though she were drunk.  To keep myself from panicking, I joked with her that she is supposed to wait for me to get home before she starts drinking.

I was able to get her into the vet a few hours later and the tentative diagnosis that it was an ear infection that pressing on a nerve that affects her face and balance.  The weirdest thing was that she had this eye twitch where her eyeball shivers when you lift the lid.

We were sent home with a two week course of antibiotics and eye drops as she was not able to properly blink her eye.  At least she was still happy in the car.

The twitch went away by the next morning but was replaced by something even more disturbing: her eyeball would pull into her head as the nictitating membrane slides across her eye.  She looks like a shark in mid-bite.  Her balance was still off and with my laminate flooring she was sliding across the floor like Bambi on ice.

We went back to the vet’s on the following Saturday for some more blood work (no help there) then I decided to go to a bakeshop nearby.  Annina’s Bakeshop in Goodwood is famous locally for the butter tarts.  But when we pulled into the lot, I saw they had a gelato stand in the front.  Well it was a hot summer day so why not?

I ended up getting a wonderfully tart lemon gelato.  That my friends should say something as I am a chocolate peanut butter kind of girl and there was indeed chocolate peanut butter gelato being offered.  But after having a sample of each of the gelato’s handed to me one after the other, I decided on the lemon.

While waiting in line, we met a couple that were passing through after visiting with friends.  They fell in love with the pups and did not seem to care about Piper’s head tilt and lolling tongue as photo after photo were taken.  Jack and Leo were getting plenty of attention too.

Yes that’s right: Jack and Leo.  My dogs go everywhere as a pack for two reasons: they keep each other calm and the ones left behind would think that they are being left out of some wonderful adventure if they didn’t come.

 

Getting some Piper love (photo courtesy of Dave Kramer)

Leo and his stunning blue eye (photo courtesy of Dave Kramer)

 

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Always smiling Jack (photo courtesy of Dave Kramer)

After the impromptu photoshoot, I went inside to get my butter tart and ended up ordering a crispy chicken wrap, coffee, and a plain butter tart to go.  The wrap was good but nothing to write home about.  A blog post yes apparently but not home.  Crispy chicken in a wrap with lettuce, barbecue sauce, and mayo.  The coffee was surprisingly good for drip.

It was obvious that most of the people that were sitting outside were not dog people.  We weren’t on a patio per se; it was a collection of tables and chairs on the front yard.  We picked a table farthest from the building in the shade.  Hardly anyone even looked at the dogs, and when they did it was with that look of condescension that I sometimes get.  The “how dare you bring these animals around me?” look.  I get it: not everyone is a dog person.  Which is why we stick to ourselves.

I ignored them and was just happy that Piper was enjoying her trip out.  It breaks my heart to see her not well.  Hopefully I’ll have good news about a recovery.  But what I did see was that she was still happy to be in the car so who knows.  We may have a few day trips ahead of us.  Besides…the yard work can wait.  It’ll still be there when we get back.

I ate my Weight in Butter Tarts

Well not really but it sure feels that way.  When I left Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland on June 11, 2016, I had butter tarts from four different bakeries.  Two were purchased based on pedigree and performance and two were purchased on whim.  In the interest of consistency, they are all plain butter tarts.

I had thought about choosing criteria and rating each based on a scale but butter tarts, like any food, are highly subjective.  The attributes that I chose to focus on were: how the tart cut, how much the crust flaked, the taste of the crust, and the consistency and taste of the filling.  Below I have each tart with my tasting notes.  This is going to be fun.

Tart #1: Hewitts Farm Market & Bakery

The first thing I noticed was the thin crust which resulted in a high filling to crust ratio.  The crust itself was very mild flavoured and contributed little to the tart other than holding the filling together.  There was a mild flake to the crust, leaving some crumbs on the plate.  The filling had a firm set with no pooling and had a flavour reminiscent of caramel.

Tart #2: Grandma’s Beach Treats

This crust was much more substantial than the previous tart and had a strong taste of flour to it.  When I cut the tart, the crust had less flaking than Hewitts.  The filling, while firm, was a tad bit looser but as you can see from the photo it still held together very well.  The dominant flavour of the filling reminded me of toffee but the crust overwhelmed the filling.

Tart #3: Betty’s Pies and Tarts

This tart had another thick crust to it.  The crust had a lovely buttery taste to it and nothing by way of flaking aside from one big crumb that you can see in the photo and I think that was from my knife work.  The filling was quite loose and runny with a hint of maple flavour.

Tart #4: Doo Doo’s Bakery

The crust of this tart in the middle as far as thickness but was the flakiest and tasted like shortbread.  The tart cut cleanly with nice firm filling.  I found the filling to be almost too sweet with just a hint of caramel undertone.

Now for a little background:  Doo Doo’s Bakery has won best butter tarts at the festival for three consecutive years (2013-2016).  Betty’s Pies and Tarts won best butter tarts at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair 2014 and 2015.

So which tart did I like the best?  If I HAD to pick one I would have to say Doo Doo’s overall.  If I was going to create my ideal butter tart it would be Betty’s filling in Doo Doo’s crust.

Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival

Canadians are often portrayed as being mild-mannered.  I mean, what stand-up comedian doesn’t poke fun at us and our unabashedly apologetic ways?  There are very few things that can light a fire in the collective Canadian belly, namely hockey, beer, and (especially in Ontario)…BUTTER TARTS.

Now I realize some people have not had the sublime pleasure of one of these creations crossing over their lips, leaving a trail of buttery crumbs on their shirt and sticky filling dribbling down their chin.  Or the new concoctions are being dreamt of in kitchens dotted across this land.  The ranks of plain tarts have swollen with the inclusion of raisin, pecan, chocolate, walnut, Nutella, maple, coconut…the list goes on and on.  I have even delved into the deep end of that pool by creating my own maple-pecan-bacon butter tarts.

Butter tarts remind us of our grandmothers even if your grandmother didn’t make them.  There is something about them that seems to speak to us from a simpler time.  They are homey, and they are rustic, and they are delicious.  These aren’t fussy desserts with an ingredient list a mile long that you break out for a celebration.  They are comforting blanket of loving goodness wrapped in a hug.

A friend told me about Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland, Ontario.  This will be the fourth year that this festival will take over the small town in cottage country.  For butter tarts.  I’ll admit that with a dubious weather forecast, I was’t sure about going.  But when my alarm went off on the morning of Saturday June 11, I soon had the dogs loaded into the car and in just under 90 minutes, I stood and gaped at the steady stream of traffic and people that had braved the rain and threat of thunderstorms for butter tarts.

The website had said that tens of thousands of people came to Midland and I’ll admit that I thought it was a bit of an exaggeration.  Butter tarts: you can get them everywhere and anywhere.  In fact I had passed several places on the drive to Midland that offered tarts for sale.  But when I stood at the top of the hill and looked at the mass of humanity that spread out before me, I felt a little overwhelmed.

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If you look closely the crowd goes all the way to the water.

The festival had vendors that lined both sides of King Street selling everything from coffee to carved wooden signs to garden ornaments.  There were food trucks offering baked potatoes and barbecue and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Oh and there were tables offering butter tarts and other baked goods. The biggest dilemma was deciding where to go.  It wasn’t complicated as the festival is pretty much contained to one gently sloping section of King Street that ends at the shore of Georgian Bay.

Since I had the dogs with me, I would not be able to see the Butter Tart contest which was being held in the Cultural Centre.  It would have been interesting to see the latest trends in butter tarts but since I would not be able to sample it was not a major loss for me.

I wandered aimlessly, weaving my way through the crowd while trying to keep the dogs close.  I asked a few people if they recommended any booths in particular but they all shrugged and said it was their first time too.  The dogs handled the throng better than I did.  We had so many people stop to pet them I felt like I should have set up a booth.  They were LOVING the attention.

Finally I saw a sign for Doo Doo’s butter tarts and that they had won first place at the festival two years in a row.  Behind that sign, there was a line-up.  I hesitated but decided that I had to try them so I joined in the line.  I’m not quite sure how long I stayed in that line but with all the people that stopped to see the dogs the time passed.

With tarts in hand, we continued down the street and in the time that we had been in line, the number of people had swelled.  The street could barely contain the mass of humanity.  By the time that we had made it to the bottom of the street and turned back, several places were sold out of the tarts.  In fact, the booths selling tarts for dogs said that they had sold out within an hour.  By the time I had made it back to Doo Doo’s, the tables were bare.  Less than two hours had passed since the festival had opened.

I felt like we ran something of a gauntlet as there were two stands selling meat products on the way back.  I stopped at one and bought a massive pack of turkey pepperettes.  I had this image in my head that the dogs would be jumping on the table or knocking things over but they were so well-behaved; or maybe just distracted sniffing the pavement for crumbs.  Either way, they were terrific.

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Waiting patiently for their snack.

We did have one butter tart while we were there from a stand with no name and it was… good.  A short distance later we found the one and only place selling butter tart milkshakes.  It was…okay.

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Piper likes to people watch too.

We left after three hours carrying a small stack of butter tarts from four different bakeries.  I’ll do a proper review of them in a later post.  After a long run. A very long run.

Tips for Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival

  1.  Get there early to beat the crowd and get first pick of goodies.
  2. If you want to buy something, buy it when you see it.  Tarts and some of the other goods will sell out quickly.
  3. This year the contest was held at the Cultural Centre.  If that’s what you want to see, make sure you go there.  I did not see any signs for the contest.
  4. The street is going to be crowded so be prepared if you have little ones, especially if they need a stroller or you want to pull a wagon.
  5. The crowd may be overwhelming for a dog.  I saw many people carrying small dogs and some of the bigger dogs were very skittish.
  6. The people around may or may not care that you have children or dogs.  I had several people look right at me and the dogs then try to walk between us.  I also saw several strollers that were almost knocked over by people walking by.
  7. Bring a backpack or bag to carry all your purchases and snacks if you want to save a few dollars on food and definitely water on a hot day.  I would recommend a backpack because bags just get knocked around in your hand and the think plastic bags can tear.
  8. Try to figure a system for deciding which vendors you want to visit.  The sheer number of places selling tarts had me shocked.
  9. The vendor list can be found online and I did see some people handing out maps but the signage was very poor.  Some booths had no signs, there was nothing posted that showed where the contest was, or port-a-potties, or the food trucks.
  10. Bring sunscreen.  It’s all outdoors.
  11. Businesses in Midland will still be open so there is more to see than just the festival and other things to eat besides the food trucks.

Tips for the Barbecue Trail

For anyone who is considering driving the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail, here are a few things you might want to consider:

  1. The biggest piece of advise I can give is to take your time.  There are no small portions and cramming seven sandwiches down your gut in one day can be uncomfortable. If you want to stop at all 23 pits, maybe aim for three to four per day.  North Carolina is beautiful and there is lots to look at when you’re not stuffing your face.
  2. There are books dedicated to the barbecue trail.  I wish I had gotten one before heading down so I could have each signed.
  3. Be open to the other barbecue places.  I went down solely for the historic pits but I learned that North Carolina has literally hundreds of pits.  They even have an app!  Yes there’s an app for barbecue too.
  4. Some of the restaurants aren’t pretty.  Deal with it because they can have some of the best food you will eat.  As long as you see a steady stream of people going in and out and a large pile of wood near billowing smoke, it’s going to be good.
  5. Talk to the locals.  They know the area better than you do and they know the food better than you do.  And being an outsider, I find it easier to start chatting with people I will never see again.  I also learned that a lot of people are proud of their town and enjoy sharing information with someone new.
  6. Somewhat related: talk to the police.  As long as they’re not busy of course.  They can give you ideas of where to stay away from and places you have to visit.  Given that they also tend to be fairly mobile and work at all hours, they would be exposed to a wide variety of places for food and lodging.  Paramedics would be a good resource too.
  7. If you’re not into freestyle road trips like me, plan your route in advance.  There are plenty of dead zones which can make navigation and booking hotels difficult.
  8. Wear comfy clothing.  You’ve got a lot of amazing food ahead of you so be ready to enjoy every teeny tiny morsel.  And here are a few shots of just some of the food we dove into…Hmmmm Piper got her little boxer nose into a few of those.

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 8

April 26, 2016

Starting mileage: 3827.7

Today was our last day on the road.  As I was checking out of the hotel, I asked if there was a good spot nearby for breakfast that wasn’t a chain restaurant.  Apparently the only places nearby were chains and the review about the food from the woman working at the counter was less than enthusiastic so I just climbed into the car with another horrible cup of hotel brew and headed out of Dayton.

Fortunately, I needed gas shortly after and was able to skim my Yelp app.  I love Yelp.  As I was scrolling through I saw an entry for Winan’s Chocolates and Coffee House .  I’m sorry…coffee AND chocolate?! Two of my favourite food groups.  Now I realize that there are six of them in Ohio but in this case I’m considering them a local group and not a chain so I’m not cheating on the no chain restaurant rule.

I ended up ordering a shortbread coffee.   It was good but I don’t think I would order it again.  And a slice of coffee cake to munch on with the coffee.  I’m amazed that I was able to leave after only buying some chocolates and gourmet gummy bears for my amazing friend Liz who watches the dogs when I’m working and takes care of my cats while the dogs and I roam.  Then back on the road; after the dogs made sure I didn’t drop any coffee cake crumbs of course.

When we pulled off the highway at a rest stop before Detroit, I was almost knocked off my feet at the sudden gust of cold air.  It had gone from balmy and warm to that damp cold that sinks into your bones.  To say it was a surprise is an understatement.

Soon we found ourselves waiting at the border crossing.  I had picked a line that was, of course, the slow one.  As I sat there, I was wondering: is the person in front of me difficult?  Is the person in the booth really thorough?  Or are they just chatting?  I ran through the contents of my car.  How much had I spent?  What souvenirs was I bringing back?  Do I have any vegetables?  No I haven’t eaten anything vegetal in days.  Oh crap where are my receipts?  I kept checking to make sure my passport was ready, and the dog documents in their envelope and the envelope was at hand and there was nothing that looked like I was hiding it and oh no I don’t have receipts for the barbecue sauce that woman bought for me at Wilbers on our second day…

Finally I pulled up to the booth and handed my passport to the gentleman sitting there.

“Where are you coming from?”  North Carolina.

“How long were you gone for?”  Eight days.

“What was the purpose of your visit?”  North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail.

Again, the double take and need to explain what the Barbecue Trail is.  He even wanted to know how I had found out about it.  It turns out that he is another foodie and wanted to know everything about the trip.  Now I realized what the hold up had been.  The conversation went from my trip to recommendations for places to eat in downtown Toronto.  We exchanged “must visit” restaurants and I was soon on my way into Windsor.

By this time I was STARVING and I found myself at Brewin’ Bros Beverage Co.  I ordered an americano and a grilled cheese.  The americano was great and that had nothing to do with it being the best coffee I had ordered in days.  The grilled cheese was on an herb panino and it barely made it out of the parking lot.  I’m pretty sure I burned the roof of my mouth on the melty cheesey goodness.

I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping in Hamilton at a business that I had been cheated out of on a previous trip but I was so tired and so close to home that I decided to press on.  It may have been a better idea to stop since I ended up getting slowed by rush hour traffic across the top of Toronto.  After eight days on the road, what’s another few hours?

Then on Tuesday April 26 at 6:49 pm we pulled into our driveway.  I barely unloaded the car before sitting on the couch surrounded by snoring dogs and purring cats as I finished the last of the bottle to toast our safe return.  Welcome home.

Finishing mileage: 4619.7

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I think Chase missed Piper more than she missed me.

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 7

April 25, 2016

Starting mileage 3128.6

When we first pulled into the campground, two of the sites had been occupied.  When I poked my head out of the tent in the morning, we were the only ones left.  I can be accused of many things but being an early riser is definitely not one of them. I thought about making breakfast but still couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything so we went for a short walk before breaking camp.

When we had passed through Tellico Plains the evening before, I had noticed a bakery and figured a nice cup of coffee was in order.  Just because I wasn’t hungry didn’t mean I couldn’t get caffeinated. So we went back into town.  And the bakery was closed.  I had forgotten that it was Monday after all.  Somewhat dejected, I started to drive out of town when I happened to look to my left and saw a small brick shed with a sign that read “Tellico Jail”.  I don’t know if it was actually a jail but I had to stop for a quick picture.

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Looking unimpressed with me.

Then I saw the local visitor centre and the sign out front said that they had the best T-shirts for the “Tail of the Dragon”.  Now I had heard of this road which is supposed to be a big draw for motorcycles.  I decided to pop in and find out more.  In the parking lot I  saw what looked like a shrub pruned in the shape of a dragon.

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Giant shrub dragon. Whatever.

The Tail of the Dragon is a section of Highway 129 that is 11 miles long but has 318 curves.  When I told the woman working there that I was in the area and thinking about driving it, she hesitated then said that today would be a good day since it wouldn’t be as busy.  I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous about it.  For some reason I had this image in my head of broken pavement, sheer cliffs, narrow roads.  But I figured that since I was here I had to at least check it out.  She pulled out a map to give me directions and told me I would have to go along the Cherohala Skyway and that there was some great scenery along there.  I made a crack about having been through there yesterday and it was just like home, only with bigger hills.  She gave me kind of a puzzled look before going back to the map.  I could either take a big loop and drive the Tail from north to south which is how most people do it or take a more direct route to go from south to north.  Since I had to go north anyway, it was an easy decision to make.  Of course now that I had a map in hand, I noticed that I had crisscrossed the park I don’t know how many times in the past 24 hours.  Part of the fun of freestyle road tripping I guess.

With a stack of maps and brochures tucked under my arm, I went back to the car and out to  the road.  It did not take me long to realize that the day before, I had actually taken a wrong turn and was never on the Skyway.  Those nice hills that I had seen were actually foothills.  Well didn’t I feel the ass when I sorted that out.  The Skyway was exactly how I had thought it would be and on par with the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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Definitely not like the hills at home.

There is a restaurant and motel at the bottom of the Tail and we stopped there before tackling the drive.  I certainly did not fit in with the crowd: a lone woman and three dogs in a Corolla with Ontario plates do stand out.  My nerves were not settled when I saw the high-end sports cars or the pack of motorcycles that pulled in talking about how their brakes were smoking.  What had I gotten us into?!?!  They even have signs for having your photo taken as you drive.

After strapping the dogs in, I sat in the drivers seat and steeled myself for the drive.  Music on and at a good level?  Check.  Everyone peed?  Check.  Hungry?  Still no.  Weird but I’ll think about that later.  We have a dragon tail to drive.  And here. We. Go.

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They don’t seem concerned at all.

It was not what I thought it would be.  The road was the same road the I had been driving.  There weren’t sheer cliffs.  And the road was not only standard width but there were even places to pull off.  I just drove nice and slow and waved at the photo stands on some of the corners.  Now had I been on a motorcycle and driving quickly for bragging rights, then it would be terrifying.  Fortunately there wasn’t much for scenery that I could see so I wasn’t tempted to look anywhere and didn’t feel cheated out of the sights.  The odd thing was that there wasn’t a restaurant at the north end of the Tail.  I guess I did it backwards.

Fortunately there were plenty of other spots to stop and enjoy and we made frequent stops as we drove.  With the clock ticking away before I had to be back home, the drive was not as leisurely as it could have been even with our little walk breaks.  As we were approaching Cincinnati, Ohio I noticed there were a lot of signs for campgrounds.  Wanting to make the most of a mostly open road, I decided to wait until we passed through before putting in for the night.  I thought that with campgrounds to the south, there would be campgrounds to the north.  Well that backfired because I did not see a single sign north of the city.  You would think by now that I would have learned my lesson and done some research ahead of time.

Finally as we approached Dayton, Ohio, I saw there was a Red Roof Inn.  Perfect.  The room wasn’t as nice as the one we had stayed at in Greensboro but it was clean and I was tired.  And finally hungry.  I tried to order a pizza from a restaurant that was 7 kms away.  They told me I was outside of their delivery area.  By this point I was so tired, I didn’t care and crawled into bed.  Apparently I found the really comfy spot on the pillow because Leo decided to use me instead.