About Timothy Gwyn

Science Fiction Writer, Travel Blogger, Pilot.

Merge!

A little over a year ago, I split this blog in two. Tim’s Road Noise has remained my intermittent vacation blog, while news of my writing life moved to Timothy Gwyn Writes.

However. It has become increasingly difficult to separate the two. My vacation travels often include a visit to a Science Fiction convention now, and I end up blogging both the con and the restaurants nearby. Some topics don’t fall neatly into either category. Also, some followers started by reading the travel posts here and took up following my writing blog as well.

I propose to merge the two blogs into one again. I will assign category labels to each post to make it easy for those readers who are interested more in one topic or the other.

This brings us to the question of which blog will host the combined content. Tim’s Road Noise is older, and contains far more photographs, but the web address is an awkward one. And whereas Road Noise has always been intermittent, going live for short bursts only when I am on vacation, Timothy Gwyn Writes is more consistent, with a steady trickle of posts. So I’m going to move all the Road Noise content to TGW.

There is one other reason. This summer’s vacation has been cancelled. We had been planning a trip to Spokane in August. I was going to attend the World Science Fiction Convention (home of the Hugo Awards, and called Sasquan this year) and then check out Mt. St. Helens for some book research before we visited some of our favorite wine country spots in Washington and headed home. This is not a good time for me to leave Canada, as I have two new coronary stents. I’m feeling fine, but health insurance might be a problem.That leaves Road Noise with a very long hiatus.

Perhaps later in the year we might visit Halifax. Yes, there’s an SF convention there, too, called Hal-Con. It’s on the Halloween weekend. We could check out the Cabot Trail beforehand and we might pop over the Confederation Bridge for a look at Prince Edward Island.

Tim’s Road Noise will still be here, at least for a while, but there will be no new posts. Our trip to Halifax, if we go, will be written up on Timothy Gwyn Writes. The familiar Drive: and Dinner Debriefing: headers will be there to help everyone to find the travel articles and restaurant reviews.

If the merger works as I expect, the posts will be in chronological order, and for periods when both blogs were active, such as last fall’s visit to Ottawa for Can-Con combined with a leaf-peeping road trip through New England, the posts should be interleaved. Like my life.

Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

In Winnipeg for KeyCon

We’re in Winnipeg for the Victoria Day long weekend, because KeyCon. That’s a science fiction convention with lots of stuff for SF writers like me. For more on that, visit my writing blog: Timothy Gwyn Writes.

And now back to the business of this blog- food and restaurants.

We had dinner at the Bonfire Bistro. You cannot make a reservation here, so we hoped that the long weekend would lure Winnipeggers away. To be on the safe side, we went early, arriving around six. At that time there were several tables open. By the time we left, there were people waiting.

The name of this restaurant refers to their wood-fired oven. Naturally, pizza is a strength. The specials posted on their blackboard included a weird and wonderful pizza with ham and blueberries and brie. I was tempted, but it had a base layer of roasted garlic and olive oil, and well, I was heading out to meet people later, and that much garlic seemed chancy. Another special that caught my eye was a scallop ceviche, and that I did order. It was just right. Tender and complemented with just a little finely chopped fruit and veg. We shared the mixed greens salad with currants from the menu, then diverged on our mains. Caroline had the Manitoba chicken breast with fig and goat cheese, I had the Spicy Bonfire Hawaiian pizza. Both were very good. She had white wine, I had a glass of Tempranillo. No room for dessert.

The Titanium Hiking Staff Project

I like to hike in the woods. A stick comes in handy on steep sections of trail, and it gives my arms something to do.

At first, I improvised a hiking staff from a five-foot rake handle. I frapped a section with string for a grip, and shoved on a rubber cane tip from the drugstore.

But I wondered- if I had a light metal tube, could I pack it with survival gear and first aid supplies? Aluminum would work, but what I really wanted was titanium. The price was a deterrent, but I finally ordered a five foot length of one inch welded titanium tubing from Online Metals.

While I was waiting for it to come, I started picking up things to put inside: a space blanket, fire starters, a small compass, a tiny roll of duct tape, water purification tablets, a whistle, fishing line and hooks, a first-aid booklet, triangle bandages, surgical gloves, chewable aspirin. Total weight, about 250 grams, or just over eight ounces.

Step One: Paint. The titanium tube arrived with the specs stenciled all over it. I’m not 20150521_115059Csure other hikers want to meet a large man with a metal pipe in his hands, so I primed it with red oxide and applied a faux wood-grain in chocolate acrylic glaze. I used a nubbly rubber glove for the graining, and the overall effect is a dark brown grain like teak. I applied a clear-coat to protect it.

Step Two: Ends. A one-inch rubber cane tip for the foot. These have steel discs inside, so the metal tube does not cut through them. For the head end, I wanted something versatile. I chose to fit the top with a broom-handle thread so that I can attach different tips. I used a lathe to turn down the handle of a SOG Spirit for this purpose, and epoxied it into the tube with the threaded portion sticking out. I found a wooden paint-roller handle that is threaded to take a broom-handle for painting ceilings. I cut it down and rounded it off to make a knob for everyday hiking. It has a decorative metal ring that looks nice on the staff.

Step Three: Frapping. The one-inch tubing is a little small for my grip, and slippery. Paracord would be best, but the closest I could get locally was some polypropylene braided cord with a 200 pound breaking strength. I wound about forty feet of it around the staff at elbow height in two layers. To do this, I mounted the tubing on a dowel spindle so that I could turn it easily. I started at the lower end, wound my way up for about ten inches, then tightly back down again. Then I tied the loose ends with a tight reef knot and fused the ends to the metal with a lighter. The knot is almost invisible. Unwound, the cord could be used in a myriad of ways, from building a shelter to suspending food from a tree.

Step Four: Packing.

Hiking Staff

Contents. I did get the space blanket more compactly rolled after several tries.

The space blanket was the biggest challenge. Although it was folded into a compact rectangle not much bigger than a deck of cards, rolling it into a slim cylinder was harder than I expected. The key was to refold it into a larger flat rectangle of the right length, squeeze all the air out, roll it tightly around a welding-rod spindle, and draw it tight with adhesive tape at regular intervals. The blanket came with an added bonus; it’s bright orange on one side and printed with diagrams showing how to use it for shelter and so on. It went in first, and slid right up to the head end. Next up, all those loose items. I rolled the first-aid booklet up tightly and taped it like the blanket. I packed some of the loose items into little ziploc bags, then I used heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pair of cylindrical torpedoes filled with the odds and ends, and slid them in. That prevents the contents from rattling or shifting and jamming. Plus the aluminum foil can be used to fashion a cup or a reflector. The last items in were the ones I thought I might need in the biggest hurry; the first-aid supplies. Repeated attempts to roll the triangle bandages into a neat cylinder were pathetic. Finally I just used a chopstick to stuff them in, tied together like a magician’s kerchiefs. The safety pins and the tiny scrap of paper with sling and bandage diagrams went in with them. When the staff was nearly packed full, I squeezed in the whistle and the surgical gloves, and left the tail end of the triangle bandage right at the end where I could grab it and pull it all out. Then the rubber cane tip went on.

Empty, the titanium staff is lighter than the wooden rake handle, and would likely float. Fully loaded, it is just over a kilo: 1070 grams (or 2lbs, 6oz). I find it a comfortable weight. You may have noticed that I carry water purification tablets, but not any kind of water container. Emptied of it’s other contents, the titanium staff will hold 650mls of water, about right for one tablet.

Birthday in Winnipeg

It was my birthday this week, so Caroline wanted to take me out for dinner somewhere nice. We had to run into Winnipeg anyway, to pick up her mukluks at the shoe repair place- The Leather Patch added crepe outsoles to them over the holidays.

We had a few things to take care of at Polo Park, so lunch at Joey made sense. I broke out of my usual sushi and steak pattern and had the mushroom cheddar burger with the house salad. Caroline usually has the Ahi tuna burger, but went with a cheeseburger and fries. I enjoyed the house salad, which was a kind of slaw with nuts and seeds and two beautiful discs of watermelon radish. The waitress told me the dressing was a vinaigrette, but it seemed more like a creamy dressing to me. My burger was large, meaty and tasty. Caroline is usually a big fan of Joey’s shoestring fries, but this time around they were on the pale side. Just the way I like them, but she’s more of a crispy golden-brown person. Santa got Joey new chairs, by the way, and I found the stretched leather slings very comfortable.

Polo Park was pretty much a zoo. Boxing week stuff seemed to be dragging on, and it took us several minutes just to find a parking spot. Pedestrian traffic in the mall was heavy – when I wanted to find a railing to lean on while Caroline popped into one of the boutiques, I had to move one store over just to find a free space. Still, we did accomplish her goal of finding a gift set of her perfume, and it was on sale at The Bay.

Cruised on over to the Hilton and got checked in, then headed out to pick up Donna on the way to InFerno’s on Academy. This is InFerno’s second location, and the menu is slightly different, with not quite as French a motif as the Saint Boniface bistro. We found the floor-plan very crowded, requiring you (and the waiters) to squeeze between tight tables to get to your seat. Some tables were separated from the next by only a curtain of strings, giving the barest suggestion of privacy.

We had mostly seafood. Donna and I started with the tuna ceviche, which we both thought was very good. Big pieces of tuna, light lime flavour, avocado and crunchy vegetables. Caroline went with the halibut chowder, but she was disappointed in it. She found it bland, saying it was like warm milk with fish in it. She was surprised that it contained no potato or other thickener. She ate only a few spoonfuls, and the waiter took it off the bill.

For entrees, Donna broke the mold and ordered the half duck, while I picked the salmon with curry and Caroline chose mussels. This finally got her the frites she had been wanting, and the serving was very generous, both of the fries and the mussels. Donna’s duck was a big dinner, too, and looked very good. My salmon needed work. I like my salmon on the rare side, and while chefs often respect this, there is a tendency for restaurants to serve it medium so as not to get complaints. Our waiter and I discussed this, and he said he’d ask for mine to be more rare. It came pretty much medium, with fully cooked ends and pink and flaky with a little moistness in the center. Oh well. When our waiter asked how it was, I said it was okay, better in the middle. He offered to replace it, but the ladies were already eating, so I declined. He came back a minute later to say that he was not convinced I was really happy, and had ordered a second salmon filet, more rare. He brought it out on a side plate, and it was cooked perfectly to my taste, warm red and wet. I ate both. The curry sauce was mild and interesting, so I enjoyed my dinner. I give points to our server, who was not about to let me walk out thinking this was another restaurant with so-so salmon.

For a wine to match all of these diverse dishes, we chose the Mark West Pinot Noir, and it was a good pick. It was versatile enough to pair up with everything.

Caroline saved room for dessert, and ordered an almond lemon pie. I liked it for being more about the almonds than the lemon, Donna thought the cream topping was excellent, but Caroline had hoped for something with a softer curd – this was stiffer, almost like cheesecake. Despite each of us picking up a fork, we did not eat it all.

Overall, the menu was interesting, the wine-list was wide-ranging, and the service was excellent. The tightly packed tables and noise were real turn-offs, though, so the food would have had to have been outstanding to make us interested in going back, and it fell short of that.

PVR 8.0

My post about the last day and trip home is overdue. Some highlights: Caroline had not booked a cabana for our last morning, but she was able to snag one of the two giant wicker couches at the poolside. Usually competition for these is at pretty much the level of Hunger Games, but it was cloudy and spitting the odd raindrop, so perhaps someone chickened out.

Comedy of elevator errors when I got back from my walk and Caroline was not at the terrace table where I left her. She had taken my hoodie and coffee mug to our room, but had not lingered there. As usual after one of my beach walks, I was wet and covered in sand. Really? I used to be on the beach patrol in Australia; I should be able to wade in the surf without getting drenched! After I showered and dressed in my fly-home-to-the-cold clothes, I tried the restaurant again, but could not find her. Returned to the room, assuming we had played hide and seek with the two elevators, only to find that I had neglected to put my keycard in my pants pocket. Locked out. Back to the pool, and found her on aforementioned sofa.

Things went really well after that. The Hilton PVR is only minutes from the airport, and we had a taxi to ourselves. No line-up for check in, and no line-up for security (I mean it: load the bins and walk on through) Our WestJet flight crew was motivated to get back to Winnipeg, and the plane was only two thirds full, so they had no trouble making a quick turnaround. Not only did we score a vacant seat in our row of three, we were the only people in the six front-row seats. This row is not everyone’s favourite, as the TVs are far away and you may get drafted for exit-row obligations, but the leg-room is extravagant.

As usual, the flight crew were unknown to me. Despite having more than a dozen former colleagues at WestJet, I never seem to fly with one of my old friends. Next best thing, though, we got a thumping tailwind and shaved half an hour off the return trip, landing in Winnipeg at 1600. It wasn’t even dark yet!

Breezed through immigration, despite having an uneaten Mexican pear in my carry-on. I declared it, in case it needed to be properly disposed of, but they let me keep it. Baggage took a few minutes, but Caroline’s “international orange” suitcase is easy to spot, and mine is also moderately distinctive. No line at customs, so we zipped through that, too. Claimed car, grabbed a Timmies dark, and hit the road home. This would have been great, except for two things: the temperature had dropped into the minus twenties, causing frost to form on the travel mug I left in the car, cooling my coffee instantly to barely warm, and we had to drive home without tunes because the valet had killed the car’s battery. A clue to how this happened was that the hatchback glass was not secure. I suspect that the valet had hit the wrong button on the key, causing the cargo light to stay on all week.They had boosted it, but the GPS was offline, the trip meter had reset to zero and the window wouldn’t auto-open. More first-world problems. How much can one man take?

Took a minute to gas up in Winnipeg and clean last week’s coating of frozen road-spray off the windows and headlights. I always think this is time well-spent for a night drive, but it sure was refreshing; Winnipeggers need to have a word with someone- the heat’s not working!

Easy drive home to Kenora. Stopped at Keewatin Place for bread, milk and orange juice, then went out for dinner with a friend.

PVR 7.1

Spent the rest of the day loafing quietly around the hotel. Finally managed to meet a guest who actually came from Britain. All the other ones I tried turned out to be British expats who now live in Canada or the USA. It takes twelve hours from Gatwick to here, apparently. That would be like us flying to Hawaii or something; I don’t think I’d find it worth that much trouble.

The coffee reverted to about a three on my new ten-point scale today. Out of desperation, I ordered an espresso and threw it into my half-empty travel mug. This brought it up to about a six. It was so good last year, I don’t know what happened. The travel mug was my best idea this year. Coffee gets cold fast on the outdoor restaurant terrace at 0700, and the hotel cups are accordingly small, which means you have to spend the whole morning flagging down waiters. So giant insulated cup with lid was great.

The Kobo was also a lifesaver, and the bluetooth earphones came in handy for drowning out people who are even more annoying than me.

We went up to the sushi bar / rooftop pool this afternoon, just for a change of scenery. This was also the first time I actually put on a bathing suit and got wet deliberately. We met some friendly and fun-loving people, so we did not stay long. (Forgot to bring my headphones!) Besides, it’s a smoking area.

We had heard reports of unusually late maid service here, and found them to be true. Once our room was done at around noon, but more usually in the middle of the afternoon. Today the maid didn’t knock on the door until five o’clock. We declined, as it wasn’t a convenient time to vacate the room. Besides, it’s our last night.

Not looking forward to the trip home much. We’ve had enough time here, I’m just not very excited at the prospect of the whole airport and flying thing. I realize this is ironic for a professional pilot, but do you enjoy doing stuff on vacation that reminds you of work? Also, I was anticipating being able to get to the car for winter coats and boots while we wait for our luggage in Winnipeg, and then I remembered that we’ll have to claim the bags first to go through Canada Customs. Oh well.

Looking forward to seeing the cats and being pointedly ignored.