My funny Valentine’s Day restaurant experiences

I’m happy to say that when it comes to bad Valentine’s Day restaurant experiences, I think the curse is finally broken.

Over the years my partner and I have had our share of truly terrible Valentine’s Day restaurant dates.

For instance, one year we visited a trendy neapolitan pizza restaurant in Montreal’s Little Italy. As we watched everyone else enjoy their blackened pizza, I could only taste ashes. My pizza was so charred, there was nothing delicious about it. When we complained to the server, I got flack for having eaten too much of  the pizza but they comped us with dessert. It’s been years but I can still remember the smell and taste of that burnt pizza. I felt bad for my partner for having taken such care in choosing a restaurant only to have this disappointing experience.

Burnt pizza
Burnt pizza, anyone?

A few years ago we were all set to enjoy a meal at a local haunt when soon after arriving we discovered they’d lost our Valentine’s Day reservation. We had to wait a long time for a table and it seemed the restaurant’s regular customers had the best seats. The food was mediocre. It was a frustrating night.

Our worst Valentine’s date happened at a romantic bistro restaurant in Pointe Claire Village, on the West Island of Montreal. The restaurant was lovely, in a beautiful historic house and the food looked wonderful. The problem was thanks to my “IBS” (or whatever it is I’ve had), I’ve had trouble digesting fat and every single food item was fatty in some way. The vegetarian burger might have been okay but it was accompanied by deep fried sweet potato fries. Then we polished the meal off with Croatian donuts. As I posted on Facebook:

Just after finishing dessert I felt very full and needed the bathroom. I threw up. The IBS I have is IBS-C, so I’m often feeling bloated but wow, I was sick. I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t seem to tolerate some foods at all. No more fried foods for me. I wonder too if the veggie burger was prepared in the same pan as a meat burger? Anyway…

This year’s date turned out rather well. As we headed into Montreal’s Mile Ex neighbourhood, we wondered if we’d ever find a parking spot in a city blanketed with 40 cm of snow. But we found a parking spot near our restaurant and made it in perfect time.

The Asian-inspired food at cosy Café Denise was amazingly tasty. It was affordable too and the service was terrific. We were happily surprised by their mango kimchi, slices of mango that were pickled and spicy. My partner enjoyed a pork and cilantro dish served with rice, while I chowed down on a dish that featured Udon noodles, cheese, mushrooms and oysters. I don’t normally like tapioca but their only dessert, coconut-infused tapioca topped with mango slices and tasty pumpkin seeds, was incredible.

tapioca dessert infused with coconut and topped with mango slices and pumpkin seeds
A tasty tapioca dessert/Stephanie O’Hanley

I hope our spell of bad luck is finally broken. I look forward to a future of many more happy Valentine’s Day restaurant dates with my sweetie.


The eyes have it— or do they?

UPDATE: I saw an ophthalmologist today and from what he can tell I do not have glaucoma at all and the eye pressure reading at the optometrist’s appears to have been wrong. This is a huge relief. My advice to anyone over 40 is go see an ophthalmologist and not an optometrist. I feel very disappointed that I was misdiagnosed.

I learned some surprising news at an eye exam this week.

Apparently I have glaucoma in one eye. It’s a big deal since if I don’t get treated I could go blind.

Based on what I’ve read, (here, for instance) glaucoma is actually not one disease but the name of a group of eye diseases and it’s one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada.

Typically the main sign of it is increased fluid pressure in the eye. Because the eye doesn’t properly drain the aqueous fluid inside the walls of the eye (not tears, but a different fluid), that fluid can build up inside the eye and put pressure on the optic nerve, which transmits the information your eye sees and sends that information to the brain. If you don’t treat glaucoma. eventually the optic nerve gets damaged and you lose your vision permanently.

The usual treatment for glaucoma involves eye drops prescribed by an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating eye disorders.

When an optometrist checked my eyes using an air puff test which involved sending a small burst of air into my eyes, the reading in my right eye was 40, which I was told is quite high. I didn’t do well on the visual field test. She checked the thickness of my cornea and I think she looked at my optic nerve because part of the test involved dilating my pupils, numbing my eyes and injecting yellow dye into them. She said my left eye is also showing signs of fluid pressure.

I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist but they can’t see me till late April.

I am confused by this diagnosis for a number of reasons.

Glaucoma can be hereditary. What puzzles me is the folks on my mother’s side who have glaucoma were all diagnosed when they were much older. My mom was in her late 70s or early 80s when she found out. I think her sisters had the same experience, though I’d not sure what age they were when they found out they had it.

My grandfather went blind from glaucoma but he too was diagnosed later in life.

I’m in my 40s. Anyone can get it after age 40.

I’ve met other people with glaucoma and I remember in one person’s case his eyes bulged because of glaucoma. My eyes are pretty recessed and they don’t bulge out at all.

I’ve been fighting some sort of cold or allergy lately and my eyes have been puffy. I wonder if the swelling in my eyes created a false reading on the test? Is that even possible?

I’m going to see my doctor on Monday and get some answers. I think more tests are in order and if I really do have glaucoma, I don’t want to wait until April.

My right eye’s been getting worse ever since the test. I have an infection that I’m treating with warm compresses. Weirdly, fluid is leaving my eye. It’s probably not related to glaucoma at all. It’s probably from my eye infection. Still,  I’m noticing the swelling and pressure in my eye.

Apparently in the early stages of glaucoma you don’t feel the pressure building up in your eye at all. That’s why it gets called the “Silent Thief of Sight.”

I really hope this diagnosis is wrong,
















A family recipe

Baked Lemon Poppyseed Cake Icing Sugar Sweet Food
We usually bake our version of this delicious cake in a bundt pan.  Photo: Max Pixel

My family didn’t invent this recipe for poppyseed cake at but it’s something my mom used to bake quite a bit.

She’s an amazing baker and cook and can make just about anything.

I especially love this recipe. I’m a big fan of anything with poppy seeds but there’s something about this moist cake when it’s topped with a lemon frosting. It’s perfect with coffee or tea or as a snack and this cake always turns out well and keeps for days. When it comes to naming a favourite “family” recipe, I have a hard time choosing between this and my mom’s butter tarts.

Buttermilk Poppyseed Cake

¼ cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk (may substitute yogurt or sour cream)
1 cup shortening
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinammon

Soak poppy seeds in buttermilk for about 10 minutes. Cream shortening with sugar, then beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Blend flour with salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with buttermilk mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold into batter.

Pour into greased 13 x 9 pan. Bake at 325° F for approximately one hour (use toothpick test).

Cool and serve.

This recipe was adapted from Canadian Living  magazine.

In Praise of Ice Cleats

I think my worst fear is falling on ice.

The weather around has been up and down. We’ve had subzero days followed by days when the thermometer climbs above zero. Ice hidden under snow melts and then freezes again, creating ice rinks on driveways, streets, parking lots and walking paths.

If you don’t want to break your bones, you get a pair of ice cleats for your winter boots.

The pair I have is super ugly. They’re black rubber with bright rusted yellow steel studs all over the bottom. They look a lot like the cleats below but they’re not the same brand:

Ultra IceCleat OA8100-Btm
Korkers ice cleats

Stretching them over winter boots can be an adventure. If you don’t align them right or center them as you’re placing them, they spring back on you, like an elastic. Once they’re on though, and you get outside, they work surprisingly well. Walking on ice is no problem.

The only drawback I find about wearing them is if you walk into a store, you make a clack, clack sound as you walk across floors. I fear they’ll get caught in a carpet but so far that’s never happened.

Every year I misplace them. I have a backup pair that doesn’t work quite as well.  While I wish I never had to use them, I do feel relieved when I find these ugly old friends again.


A better litter box?

A while back I wrote about a rotten experience we had with the Luuup litter box. I didn’t plan that review. I was curious about the Luuup when I heard about it but didn’t order it when it came out on Indigegogo and Kickstarter.

But when someone posted a brand-new Luuup on VarageSale, I grabbed it. I thought it would be wonderful. After all, it was supposed to make litter box cleaning a joy and I was curious about how that was even possible. I was happy to see a Canadian company making big waves with a new innovation for cats.

I had problems with litter sticking to the sides of the Luuup whenever one of our cats peed there and soiled litter got stuck in the slots of the interlocking trays. If you turned a tray the wrong way, you ended up with a mess of soiled litter all over the floor. We tried using the litter brands recommended by the folks behind Luuup, but things did not get any better. I wanted to like the Luuup and one of our cats still uses it, but for me it was a huge disappointment. These days we clean the Luuup the way you would clean any regular litter box.

So this being a small blog, I was very surprised to receive an email from James Leech, the creator of Boxscoop, a relatively new player on the litter box innovation scene and like the folks behind the Luuup, he’s Canadian.

I can’t tell you much about the Boxscoop 2.0 litter box because I don’t yet have one to test. As I write this, the Kickstarter campaign still has 32 days to go. When I suggested he send me a litter box so I can do an honest review, Leech promised to send me one as soon as they’re available.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, based on their press release and Kickstarter campaign and the email Leech sent me:

Source: Boxscoop
  • Last November Boxscoop 2.0 was launched on Kickstarter in January. Leech says the first model received amazing feedback and they’re working on launching a better, 2.0 version.
  • According to their press release, Boxscoop has no seams, corners or crevices, making  it a cinch to keep sanitized and clean.
  • The litter box’s container is round and vertical and does not look like your typical flat, square pan-shaped box. As cats enter or leave the litter box from the top (in pretty much the same way cats jump in and out of cardboard boxes), they walk across a built-in litter mat that emulates the feel of a favourite cat texture, corrugated cardboard, and because they walk across the mat, they don’t track litter around your home.  The entry hole is 11.5 inches wide, and the whole container is 15.5 inches high and 19.5 inches wide at the base. Leech designed the container to work with the “natural circular movement of cats, so they have equal distance in all directions to turn. The top cover is designed with openness so cats can feel unconstrained while providing superior litter tracking reduction than typical enclosed systems.”
Source: Boxscoop
  • When you take the top cover off (the top and bottom interlock, with no clips whatsoever), it looks a bit like a bucket with a large, metal scoop attached at the top. You simply use the scoop to clean the litter and voilà, you’re done. Cleaning the litter box apparently takes only six seconds.
  • The marketing materials suggest this litter box is better than the Litter Robot, an automated litter box, since it costs much less, isn’t noisy and you don’t get the smell that you have when litter accumulates in a litter box.
  • Boxscoop is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and so is the packaging it’s shipped in.
  • You can use practically any type of clumping litter with this litter box. You can also use non-clumping litter such as crystals and pretty litter. According to their Kickstarter campaign, “Boxscoop is 30-70% more litter efficient that a standard box, depending how much litter you decide to use.”
  • While the original Boxscoop came in white only, if the Kickstarter reaches $110,000  Canadian (it was nearing $75,000 U.S. the last time I checked), plans are to add more colours, for instance, modern matte gray and charcoal black.
  • In the future, when they have the means, the plan is offer a special add-on ramp for arthritic or disabled cats.
Will it work in our three-cat environment? Will it live up to all these promises? I have no idea. I do look forward to testing this cat litter box and offering a truthful assessment of how it works with our cats. One of our cats is a bully male cat who tries to ambush whichever female cat is leaving a litter box. I wonder if he’d do that with the Boxscoop.
Source: Boxscoop

A favourite “healthy” recipe

We sometimes get batches of basil with the vegetables we order from Lufa Farms. Tasty pesto is the result.

This recipe isn’t mine but taken from a number of recipes I’ve found online.


Homemade Basil Pesto

2-4 cups fresh basil leaves

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


1/3 cup pine nuts (I’ve used almonds or walnuts instead)

1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese 

I’ve thrown everything together in a blender and my pesto turns out just fine. But some recipes (this one, for instance) suggest that you put the basil and nuts (if you’re adding them) in the blender or food processor first, then after blending or pulsing them, add the garlic and cheese (if you’re using it) and keep blending or pulsing. Then with the blender or food processor going, add the olive oil slowly,  and every so often use a spatula or a wooden spoon to push the mixture away from the sides.

When the pesto looks done, add salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon juice and transfer the mixture into a glass jar. It should keep in the fridge for two weeks or so. Use it on pizza, pasta, on sandwiches, put it on crackers, decorate your potatoes with it. Or eat it out of the jar. It’s delicious!





Car shopping

Our dream car??

I don’t have my driver’s licence so it’s kind of funny that I’m writing about buying a car.

We found ourselves needing a new car because my partner was in an accident a little over two weeks ago. He was on the way to his parents’ house on the West Island and was travelling at maybe 40 km an hour when he hit black ice. He braked but could not stop the car from ploughing into the vehicle ahead of him, which hit the vehicle ahead of it. So three cars were damaged in a matter of seconds. My partner’s 2004 Honda Civic suffered the brunt of the impact. A good part of the bumper on one side is all broken or has broken off and the hood no longer comes down. Because of the age of the car and the mileage (270,000 km) it’s probably best that we replace it. We’re planning to give it to the Kidney Foundation of Canada in exchange for a tax receipt.

It is incredibly difficult to get around our part of the world without a car. We have public transportation during the day and a little bit in the evening but unless you spend an hour walking to the train station/bus mall hub near the train station you are nowhere near any public transportation on weekends. A car is a necessity if you live in Vaudreuil-Dorion, especially in winter.

We borrowed my partners’ parents’ vehicle and a week after the accident headed to a local dealership to check out a used car that fit our lowish budget of $10,000 to $14,000. The experience at that dealership was the worst we saw in our search for a replacement.

They texted us to say the car was ready but when we got there, no salesperson was assigned to us and they had to find plates for the car, clean the snow and ice off it before we could drive it.

The grey 2015 Yaris looked great on paper. It was a lease return maintained at the dealership and it only had 33,000 km on it. But whoever leased that car must have smoked all the time they drove it because it reeked of smoke. The sales rep let us take it on a test drive without even checking my partner’s driver’s licence or accompanying us when we drove it. As we headed out he told us that if the cigarette smell bothered us they had some ionizing technology or something that would get the smell out. What on earth?

If you can smell cigarette smoke in a car when it’s winter, just imagine  what it would be in the summer. My son has asthma and I react to smoke. I don’t think car dealerships should ever expose potential buyers to secondhand smoke. I don’t know why we were ever allowed to drive that car. They should have cleaned it first.

My partner found the Yaris’ steering really tight and the trunk space was incredibly small so that elimated that car from our maybe list. The next car the salesperson showed us was really nice. It was some sort of luxury version of a  2015 Toyota Corolla and had leather features and heated seats and plenty of technology.  I think the mileage for that one was also in the 30,000 km range. The problem was it was out of our budget. He never asked us what our budget was. We really liked that car but the price he set was about $1,000 above what we could afford.

I don’t think salespeople make much of a commission on used cars and I guess some salespeople don’t want to put too much time into people who are shopping around and taking their time to find a car. The next thing he did was show us a really basic 2015 Toyota Corolla CE. I can’t remember the mileage, just that it was a white car and wasn’t super attractive inside and had visible scraping on the bottom of the car doors. When I asked about that, the salesperson told us that it was from stones hitting the car. He kept saying that unlike black cars, white cars don’t show dirt. I had a hard time keeping my composure. We see dirty white cars all over the place in our area. If a white car looks clean, it’s probably because their owners just visited a car wash.  Otherwise it looks worse than most other cars on the road.

When we wrapped things up, that salesperson did not look like he cared if he ever got our business. I phoned the dealership a few days later when I noticed on their website that the price had come down on the car we really liked. He never called us back.

It doesn’t matter now.  After meeting some very pleasant and sympathetic young salespeople at other dealerships, we found our car. It’s another Honda Civic and like the old one, it’s blue. But it’s within our budget, its history looks good, the mileage isn’t too bad and it even has the heated seats and rear-view camera we weren’t looking for. Our must-have list was short: a car in great condition, air conditioning  and Bluetooth.

This newish car is ticking all the boxes. Now we just have to refuse the nearly $4,000 in add-ons the woman in the financing department pitched us. We spent an hour and a half listening to a spiel about our need for an extended warranty, “Platinum” rust protection, V.I.N. engraving and disability and life insurance. We said we would think about it but in truth were left that dealership feeling hangry. If she had fed us, who knows, she might have had a sale!