Review: Greg Frewin Magic Show

Thanks to my brother, I got the opportunity to see the Greg Frewin magic show Wednesday night in Niagara Falls.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I was born and raised in the Falls, and it's interesting to see how much it has changed in the last few decades. Whether the change is for the better or worse is debatable, but the reality is that the Falls is dependent on tourist dollars - and a good quality, family-friendly attraction can be a very good thing for the area.

First, the magic show itself.  I'm of the skeptical persuasion, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed, or, at the most, whelmed ;)

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised!  While not completely flawless, the show was both amusing and amazing.  I prefer sleight-of-hand stuff over "disappearing lady" tricks, and there was a good mix of both, in addition to a lot of audience participation. Some of the tricks were a bit repetitive (how many times can you oooh and awww over the same stunt?), but it still managed to keep me entertained and wondering just how some of it was done.

My one criticism was the use of animals in the show - tigers, a dog, a goose, a parrot, a cockatoo (or something similar), and of course, the traditional doves. It's not so much the use of the animals on stage (but one does have to wonder just how stressed they get with the loud music and bright lights), but what happens to them when they aren't on stage.  I'm not a big fan of privately-owned exotic animals, especially large cats, but I do realize this is a bigger issue (and one that most zoos are complicit in, as they keep producing an excessive number of babies, without anywhere for them to go but into private hands). I don't believe that the tigers (and there are four of them) spend their off-time in a enriched environment that provides them with both mental and physical stimulation, and that is imperative for any animal, especially a large, intelligent, powerful carnivore.

But that's my issue, and may not be of concern to others.

So, overall, I would recommend the show itself.

Now, the venue.

It's a nice room, with both booths and tables, set up to hold a large audience while still providing everyone with a good view of the stage. The booths are nice for large groups (six or more), but the tables (which seat eight) are shared with other smaller parties. I'm not sure I'd want to go in a small group and be seated at one of the tables, but again, that's me :)

We didn't have the optional buffet, but it is catered by one of the better local restaurants, so I'm sure the food is good, keeping in mind it is a buffet (i.e. it's not gourmet fare).

When we first got there, the rest of the party was still looking over the drinks menu, and I asked for water.

To which the waitress replied "Bottled water?".  Fair enough, and thanks for clarifying.  When I asked if there were any other options, she replied that there was tap water, but the quality was poor.


Let me back up a step.  This was a special show, put on for local people in the industry, so the servers should realize that most of the people in the room are from the area, and not tourists.  You know, people who live there. And quite possible drink the tap water in their own homes.

I don't have an issue with the waitress trying to up-sell me to a bottle of water, I have an issue with her trying to do so in a deceitful and, frankly, stupid manner.

I eventually got my glass of tap water, no harm, no foul. Not a big issue, and not one that would prevent me from recommending the show to a tourist.


The drinks.

I am, for the first time in my life, actually contemplating calling the liquor board and lodging a complaint. And this is what will prevent me from recommending this attraction to anyone.   

Again, keep in mind this was a show put on for industry insiders.  Those that work in area attractions, hotels and restaurants, with the hopes they will in turn recommend the venue to tourists.  Which is the main reason to have an industry night.  If you were the ones arranging it, would you try to scam your audience?

My sister ordered a margarita, and my brother and I decided to split a "pitcher" of cosmos, which was advertised as a "savings" over buying three separate drinks.

If there was 3 ounces of alcohol between all of the drinks, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

The margarita tasted like salty lime koolaid, and the cosmos tasted like poor-quality cranberry juice.  There was NO evidence of any alcohol at all in the cosmos, and if there was any, it was nowhere near the ounce-and-a-half to two ounces that is standard in a cosmo. Again, the pitcher was supposed to contain three servings, which means a minimum of three ounces, and more standard for a cosmo, 4.5 - 6 ounces of alcohol. The margarita was around $7 (going on memory here), and the pitcher of cosmos was a whopping $24.  Which would have been fine, except the quantity wasn't enough to pour two full glasses, let alone the three is was supposed to fill.  We would have been better off buying two separate drinks for around $7-9 each.

Niagara Falls has a well-deserved reputation for crappy, over-priced restaurants, and that's one BIG reason why many tourists either only come once, or stay for a only a short period of time. A lot of effort has gone into diversifying the attractions in the area, to get more tourists to come during off-season and to stay longer.

And I applaud most of these efforts.

But until the local restaurants realize they can't keep treating tourists like shit, trying to pawn off insanely priced crap on customers they never expect to see again, it won't work.

If this is how they treat people that they want good recommendations from, how will they treat a tourist?

So, no, I cannot recommend this attraction, at least without a warning. If you do go, don't order any alcohol. Or stick to bottled beer, and ask for it to be opened at the table.

Oh, wait... maybe making the alcohol disappear from the drinks was supposed to be one of the tricks? If so, well done! 

Things I don't buy: soup

Anyone who has read my blog for a while should realize I eat a lot of soup

It's cheap, it's healthy (or can be), it's a great way of using up odd bits of food... and I simply like soup!

The one thing I don't do, however, is buy soup. The last time I bought condensed soup was a few years ago, during a particularly bad cold, when I didn't feel like eating, let alone cooking. (Which is why a stash of homemade soup is a good thing!).


So disgusting that the second can stayed in the cupboard until I found it a couple of months ago, long expired. Now, I really don't like wasting food, but I figured I was doing the world a favour by trashing it  ;)

And I noticed recently that some stores are selling liter jars of soup in the deli section - for over $6 a liter!!!

I don't buy soup, and I especially don't buy it for more than five time the cost of gasoline!
Regular readers should also realize I seldom use a recipe for soup.  It's a flavour base (generally stock) plus bits of solids (meat and/or veggies), with an optional bit of starch or grains (pasta, barley or other grains, potatoes, etc.). Some soups I make can be more expensive (leek and blue cheese, French onion with beer), and some are almost free, like veggie soup made with produce from the garden, or beef soup made from a leftover roast. 

Clam chowder, corn chowder, bacon and potato, chicken and rice, tomato tortellini, roasted red pepper, turkey noodle, Italian sausage, beef and barley, curried root veggie with chickpeas... the list is almost endless, and is limited only to your taste and budget.

My one failure in this area, though, is stock.  While I have chicken/turkey stock down pat, I still buy beef and vegetable stock. So, one resolution this year is to start making my own.  Especially vegetable stock, which is so cheap to make.  I'll start saving scraps in a dedicated container in the freezer, and when it's full, a bit of water and some time on the stove - and hey, presto, vegetable stock.  And I made beef stock a couple of weeks ago, from some bones my mother saved for me from a roast.  Again, it's not hard, it just requires some time and water :)

This will be the year of stock making (and canning!), and then stock can be one more thing that I don't buy. 

Sad dog is sad

I'm forced to lay in the hallway.

On the bare floor.

Then Kip steals my sun.

Katy loves to lay in the sun.  Unfortunately for her, the only windows that get good sun in the winter are in the side of the house, making the hallway the best spot for sunbathing.

And I am NOT putting a dog bed in the hallway.

I have NO idea what is going on with Kip's back leg in that last picture.  It is not on backwards, and isn't broken, nor is it 25% longer than his other legs.  Freak.  :)


Almost a year ago, I posted about my main method of making coffee.  And thanks to an excellent Christmas gift from my sister, I now have a way of making espresso*-based drinks!

Yeah!  She had no idea how long I had been coveting one of these, which makes the gift even more perfect!

Y'all know what it is, right? Of course you do!  It's a Bialetti, aka a moka pot! And it came with funky cups and saucers, based on some vintage Bialetti ads.

I love this dude. He reminds me of Inspector Clouseau. (Are you now humming the theme to the Pink Panther**? You should be.  It is now the theme song for coffee making in my house.)

The water goes in the bottom chamber, and when heated, goes up through the coffee grounds in the basket.

The coffee then goes through a filter and up the tube into the upper chamber.

And hey presto - espresso!

I can now have a cafe latte every day, without breaking the bank.  Just heat the milk in the microwave while the coffee is perking away - easy!  And quick - the entire process takes next to no time at all.

Sis also got me a this for my birthday***:

Which has the innards of a french press, but is made by Cadbury's and came with hot chocolate, leading me to believe it's meant to be a  "chocolatiere", aka fancy-schmancy hot chocolate maker.  I'll try my hot chocolate mix in it, but I think it will find more use as a french press. And as my old french press broke a while ago, it is also a perfect gift! 

Thanks sis!  Wanna come over for coffee?

*yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it's not "true" espresso, but it's as close as I'm going to get, as I refuse to waste money on a cheap espresso maker, and I don't have the money to waste on a real one!

**which was written by Henry Mancini. Who also wrote Moon River.  Thanks, Dad, for filling my head with useless facts!

***Oddly enough, my brother got me some excellent coffee for my birthday, and gift certificates for Starbucks for Christmas.  I think my love for coffee hasn't escaped my family's notice :)

One of Twelve

Sunday night, my family finally got the first installment of their Christmas present: supper.


Yep - instead of gifts this year, I gave food to all adults in my family, in the form of one family meal a month at my house.  The kids get to come along as well, even though they still got gifts :)

And Sunday night was the first supper: pulled pork on a bun, cole slaw and baked beans.

Hey - I said supper, not "gourmet meal". 

And when you are feeding 9 guests on a budget, well, the meals will tend more to simple fare.  Tasty, but simple.

This is what was left of the pork... I guess they liked it!

I simply put two roasts (combined weight ~6 pounds) in the slow cooker in the morning, added a couple of bottles of BBQ sauce, and cooked on high for 6 hours, took out the roasts, shredded the meat with two forks, added that back to the slow cooker, and cooked on low for another 2 hours.  If I do this again, I'll use either larger cuts, or boneless cuts, since running out of food is not a good thing!

I used this recipe for the baked beans, and it was GOOD.  Fantastic.  Yummy.  I could have eaten the entire thing - and I don't like beans.  And yes, I realize adding sugar and bacon to beans turns a healthy food into a not-so-healthy food, but, wow - so good!  The only thing I did differently was to use my cast iron skillet for the entire recipe - why cook everything in the skillet, then move to a second dish to bake it? Reason #3085 I love cast iron - oven proof!

The cole slaw was a family recipe:  grate one carrot, chop up some cabbage (I used half each of a red and green cabbage), then add the following dressing:

1 cup vinegar
2/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar (I cut this back to 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons salt

Add everything to a sauce pan, bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt, then cool before using.
I really prefer vinaigrette dressing on slaw, and this one is nice and simple.  I also add a few twists of ground pepper once the dressing has cooled.  And make this ahead of time - it just gets better with time.

I picked up these two local wines - one from Pelee Island Winery and one from the more local Strewn winery.  Both under $12 a bottle, and both quite good.  I love living in an area with so many wineries! 

Oh, and the dogs say having company is tiring!

Now, this wasn't the most sustainable or locally-sourced meal, but it could be.  I want to work on the baked bean recipe so I can use home-grown dry beans.  I also need to find a home-made BBQ sauce recipe I like, and that can be made mostly from stuff I can grow.  The salad, other than the dressing, can be also completely home-grown. And of course, one could make the buns as well, if one could actually learn to work with yeast dough.  Yeah.

So, by growing the beans and all the veggies, by making the BBQ sauce and buns myself, and by using locally-sourced, sustainable produced pork and bacon, this meal can easily be a local, sustainable one!  With local wines :)

Now, on to next month...

It's official: Katy is a freak

I really shouldn't be so mean to the poor, wee dog, but...

Katy had her annual vet check this week, and everything is great. I realized we had never done a blood panel* on her, so gave the vet the okay to run one. Katy was a champ getting the blood work done - even to the extent of shrugging her shoulder to increase the flow of blood :)

All her numbers came back fine, except for two liver tests - one is a couple of points higher than normal, one is a couple of points lower.  The vet called herself to explain the numbers, and that she had absolutely no concern about the out-of-range values - the worry starts when the values are5 to 10 *times* normal, not just a couple of points. 

(Have I mentioned that I love our vet?  The fact that she made a point of calling, and explaining everything is wonderful.  And the entire clinic treats both dogs SO well!)

While there, I pointed out two bumps that Katy developed recently - one on her ear, and one on her upper lip, right by her nose.

The vet doesn't think the one on the ear is anything to worry about - probably just a cyst, so it's officially a wait-and-watch item. No prob.

The other one had a very small "thing" coming out of it, so the vet grabbed some tweezers, and pulled...

... and a clump of thick, black, 1/2 inch long hair came out!

The vet said in 17 years of small animal practise, she has NEVER seen anything like that. Ever.

So, it's official.

Katy is a freak!

I'm not a freak, and I'll lay here and pout until you take it back.

*The vet recommended the geriatric panel. Shhhhhh, don't tell Katy! Kip had his panel done before he was neutered, so now both dogs have a baseline blood panel done - a good thing, if they ever get really sick, as it gives the vet a "healthy" reference point. If you don't have one on your dogs/cats, please ask your vet about it next time you go in! IMO, the cost is worth the information and peace of mind. 

Things I don't buy: breakfast cereal

I happened to walk down the cereal aisle in the grocery store recently, and almost fell over.  I couldn't believe the prices!  How do families with growing children afford to buy cereal?  And why do they?

Because that is another thing I don't buy, and haven't bought in a while.  Even then, for years all I ever bought was granola.  I've posted before about homemade granola, but my winter choice is, of course, oatmeal. 

Steel-cut oats topped with dehydrated blueberries from last summer and sweetened with local maple syrup.

Specifically, steel-cut oats.  They are chewier and nuttier than rolled oats, but rolled oats are good too.  Both are better than those packets of oatmeal, which, while the ingredients aren't too bad, are so expensive when compared to making your own.  If you like your oatmeal on the go, you can actually make your own instant packets, or just make some in the morning and take it with you in a wide-mouthed thermos. 

Steel-cut oats range from $0.30/100 g at the bulk store to $0.70/100 g for store-bought organic, but even at the highest price, that works out to around 22 cents for a quarter cup serving (about 1 cup cooked).  Even if you are a big breakfast eater, and double that amount, it's still under 50 cents.  Of course, that doesn't include the additions. But if you stock up on cheap, in-season fruit in the summer, the cost isn't that high - and the flavour!  Dehydrated strawberries are my current favourite - it's a little hit of summer every morning :)  The fruit also adds some sweetness, and of course, you can always swap the maple syrup for cheaper honey or sugar. All told, it's still under, WAY under, $1.00 per serving. 

Yes, oatmeal takes time to cook.  And yes, you do have to stir it occasionally. But soaking overnight cuts down on the cooking time, and some people even use their slow cooker, and have breakfast ready for them in the morning.  I've tried neither of these methods, since I can easily work the 30 minute cooking time into my routine, especially on weekends.  I have even made a large batch, and used the microwave to re-heat the leftovers.  You have to add a bit more liquid, but it works fine for those busy mornings.

Cheap, healthy, tasty and filling - you can't ask for more from a breakfast cereal! And you certainly won't find any of that in a processed breakfast cereal. 

I use a 4:1 or higher ratio of water to oats, since I like mine on the thin side, and I don't add milk before eating. I add the dehydrated fruit in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. 

1 breed, 2 dogs.



Are you freakin' kidding me?  Get out of my way, woman, I'm coming inside.

What do you mean there are two more months of this??


Kip digs snow.  Loves it.  He will play "find the snowball" for HOURS.  My neighbours think I'm nuts because I'll stand there and kick snow at him, to his everlasting joy.

And Katy?  The dog that would spend 25 hours a day outside if she could?

She is not amused.

Same breed,  two totally different dogs!

Things I don't buy: hot chocolate mix

I have been noticing a common theme on some of the other blogs I read:  a list of common items they do not buy.  Now, I could make my own list, but I think it's interesting to expand on the theme.  If I don't buy these things, what do I do instead?

First up:  hot chocolate mix. 

Even though we have had an unseasonably warm winter (no snow, no ice on the lake, green things still abounding outside), hot chocolate is still my go-to drink for winter evenings. I still remember looking for recipes a few years back for home-made mix, and being surprised at the number that started with Nestles' Quik, or something similar.  Here's a hint:  if you are starting with a chocolate mix, it's not really that different than simply buying a hot chocolate mix.

So, with some trial and error, I developed my own recipe.  Fair warning:  I like mine dark and rich and chocolatey, without being too sweet, so you may find you have to add more sugar.
Hot Chocolate Mix:
1 part powdered milk
2 parts Dutch-processed cocoa
2 parts sugar

Mix well, getting cocoa all over everything in the process, then store is a sealed container.  Use 2-3 Tablespoons per mug of hot water (depending on the size of the mug and your taste).
Both because I'm lazy and I tend not to have milk in the house, I add powdered milk to the mix.  This can be left out entirely, and you can either choose to drink as is (it's more chocolatey that way), or make it with hot milk instead.  There will be a few bits of milk floating around, but they eventually disappear.  If this offends you, apparently bashing the mix about in a food processor or blender helps.  I wouldn't know, because, well, I'm too lazy to try it :)

I often add things to my hot chocolate: a candy cane for mint (which also makes it sweeter), some cinnamon and chili powder for a Mexican twist, and sometimes, if I'm feeling really decadent, Skor bits.  YUM!  Oh, yeah, marshmallows.  Not a big marshmallow* fan, so those aren't on my list, but hey, if you like them... ;)

If you're not a big hot chocolate drinker, but enjoy the occasional cup, simply add a 1:1 ratio of cocoa and sugar to a mug, add hot water, and presto, hot chocolate.

Why Dutch-processed cocoa?  Because I think it tastes better, and the local bulk food store carries it. For those interested, here is a comparison of "dutched" cocoa vs "natural".  All I know is that I really do prefer Dutch-processed cocoa for hot chocolate!

As for cost, it works out to somewhere around 35 cents a mug, based on the going rates at the bulk food store (yes, I did actually weight each component to figure that out.  Geeks rule).  Leaving out the milk would drop that to around 28 cents a cup, but most of the cost is in the cocoa. 

I actually have no idea how that compares to store-bought mixes.  I think you could find coupons for those, so it's not as simple as checking out the normal price, plus I don't know how many cups you would actually get out of a can (my mugs are BIG, so the serving number, if available, isn't really accurate for a true comparison).

But here are the ingredients of one mix:


Yeah.  I know I'd much rather drink something with only three ingredients.  Also something with cocoa higher than fourth on the list.  And vegetable oil?  Really??  WTF? 

Plus, homemade tastes SO much better!  Especially with those left over candy canes....

*that link is from this site.  Yes, I do find that site funny.

Lunch of champions....


Poached local, organic eggs on toast made from bread from a local bakery, washed down with kick ass (literally) fair trade coffee and apple juice made from Ontario apples.


Thank you, Allen's!

I don't know if I can express how happy this can makes me.  You see, apple juice is my second favourite liquid in the world - the first being fresh apple cider :)

And I haven't had as much as a sip of it in at least 10 years. Not one sip, ever since I learned the amazing fact that most of our apple juice comes from overseas.  

Now I realize the perception of Canada is that it is a land of snow and ice, but the reality is that we have a LOT of agricultural land, and a lot of that is quite suitable for orchards - peaches, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines, tree nuts - and of course, apples.

I also remember the government paying farmers to pull out cherry orchards when I was a child.  It didn't make sense to me then, and years later, it still doesn't make sense to me. So, long story short, I refuse to support an industry that chooses to purchase a product from overseas to the detriment of local farmers.  We have lost so much farm land, and so many processors, like the local cannery, and I'm tired of trying to get people to see the link between buying cheap foreign food and the loss of good-paying local jobs.

So, I boycotted apple juice.  Until yesterday - when I saw that Allen's was actually promoting local apples and local farmers!!  Of course, it's a "special edition", but I am going to buy as much of this as I think I can use in the next year, and I will contact Allen's to show my support for this, in the hopes that it continues.

And if you live in Ontario, and love apple juice as well, I ask you to do the same.

Let's start rewarding companies for making good choices, for supporting local farmers, for trying to make farming a viable industry.

And join me in toasting Allen's with, of course, a glass of apple juice!


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