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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Olive Oil - and a Taste of the Exotic!

Olive Oil - and a Taste of the Exotic!

Having lived in Southampton, in Hampshire (U.K), for seventeen years before emigrating to Canada, I've always been intrigued by its namesake, on the east coast of Lake Huron. We've been through it a number of times on our past journeys but last week, we had the opportunity to explore this beautiful area of Ontario in a little more depth. Thanks to our friends, Carolyn (C.J.) and Art, we took the ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, and drove down to the area. 

Among the many interesting stores on the high street, is the Southampton Olive Oil Company - 'a family owned and operated specialty extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and select gourmet foods boutique'. I had seen a similar store in Barrie, last year, and felt drawn to visit this one after we had finished lunch. 
Southampton Olive Oil Company

Stepping inside, one is immediately struck by the interactive nature of the store... and the availability of Dave Rudell, the owner, who personally welcomed us and invited us to explore the various tastes that were on tap. 

One small area of the larger 'Tasting Room'

Several samples brought forth murmurs of appreciation as we made our way around the 'Tasting Room'. Of especial enjoyment were the Honey Ginger White Balsamic Vinegar, and the Sicilian Lemon, though there were many more that elicited sighs and gasps! 

C.J. pours...

C.J. anticipates...

C.J. relishes the experience!

Dave, filling a bottle ready for sale.

The store is so warm and inviting, with beautifully arranged displays, and little recipe suggestions. Dave was incredibly knowledgeable about which flavours would bring out the piquancy of a dish, and he spent a lot of time with us, explaining each of the samples and how they could be used to enhance a gourmet meal. We felt totally relaxed and unhurried.

Dave took his time to explain some of the finer points of each vinegar

We felt totally looked after and unhurried

One of the many displays that catch the eye

I thought it was neat how Dana sealed the caps on the bottles...

There were several suggested recipes

During the conversation, Art mentioned that we were in the area to visit C.J.'s daughter, Devon, who is the chef, and joint owner, of a restaurant in Port Elgin. Dave asked which one, and Art told him that it was Saffron. His response was amazing! He said, 'You're kidding!! That's the best restaurant in this whole area and we always go there if we want to celebrate something special'. What a marvellous endorsement of an eating place! 

Mark and I had traveled up to Port Elgin last year, from our house-sit in West Lorne, specifically to have brunch at Saffron, and to meet Dev, in person, for the first time. We knew that, if the brunch was anything to go by, dinner would be superb. We were certainly not disappointed! 

So, a couple of months ago, I had suggested to C.J. and Art that it might be fun to surprise Dev by dropping in, unannounced, and the plan was concocted to include two overnight stays at the Colonial Motel, in Port Elgin.

Port Elgin - just 12 minutes south of Southampton

Just 12 minutes south, on HWY 21, Port Elgin boasts a harbour and one of the many admirable beaches on the Saugeen Shores. On the main highway, Saffron (it's full name is, 'Saffron - a Taste of the Exotic') may be found tucked away in a small strip mall - in fact, it would be easy to miss it. 

That being said, in just a short time, this restaurant has justifiably wormed its way into the hearts of locals, near and not-so-near, and has won a steady stream of repeat patrons, who make it a point of necessity to include it in their regular itinerary. In just under four years, Saffron has received some well-deserved, prestigious awards, including the #2 spot out of 30 restaurants in Port Elgin by Trip Advisor, and their Certificate of Excellence!

The interior is attractive in its simplicity, and decorated to make for a warm and welcome eating experience. In their own words, "... in terms of atmosphere, picture a casual, quirky spot rather than a fine dining establishment with a lot of 'ambiance'". 

Simple, but elegant

I have to say, though, that the patio is our favourite place to eat. 

The patio in the summer is a must-see

Dev and Sunny are usually busily tucked away in the kitchen, along with their support staff, while Jenn and her mom, Linda, look after the patrons. Jenn's bubbly personality is only matched by her extraordinary ability to recall all of the finer details of the dishes and the weekly specials on the menu. 

Devon adds her own 'twist' to the exotic recipes

Jenn and Linda - posing! (Their smiles are much larger than their frowns lol!!!)

Their aim is to have a small menu with made-from-scratch ingredients from all over the world

We ate there both nights, and left totally satisfied on both occasions, with a zing on our taste buds! It really does have to be experienced as words cannot do justice to Dev's awesome cooking skills. The restaurant certainly lives up to its claim, serving internationally diverse cuisine. The menu of made-from-scratch items come from different parts of the world, and the way she puts them together is unique. 

Thai Green Coconut Curry (with chicken)

Delicious Indian Butter Chicken

It truly is a 'Taste of the Exotic' - and we can't wait until our journeys take us in that vicinity once more.

Great idea for the menu 'specials'

No trip to the Saugeen Shores will be complete without a stop there - but be warned, you will need to make reservations to avoid disappointment. 

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Emma Does Niagara!!!

One of the things we enjoy most about pet sitting is that we are sometimes allowed to take our furry friends out for a day trip in the car. (We actually bought our own back-seat hammock especially for this purpose). Today, the temperature coaxed us to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls, which is only an hour away from where we are staying. As soon as we had our caps on, Emma knew that we were going outside. After a moments confusion, she got in the back seat of the car and promptly made herself at home. 

We had packed her bowl, a couple of bottles of water to keep her hydrated, and some treats so that she would have something when we were eating our lunch. 

She was soooo good in the back of the car - sometimes thrusting her head in between us to smother us with kisses - sometimes digging herself under the hammock - but most of the time, her nose to the window sniffing at the passing air as we made our way south. 

You'll never be starved of kisses when Emma is around!
Arriving at Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stopped to get a sandwich and muffin, and made our way to our favourite park, Queen's Royal Park, overlooking the mouth of the Niagara River, opposite the American Old Fort Niagara. Emma was excited to get out of the car, and lap up some water from her bowl, and avail herself of the proffered treats. 

Time to slake our thirst

She really is a 'friend-magnet', as so many people stopped to ask about her, recognizing her breed (Portuguese Water Dog), and wanting to pet her. She lapped it all up, while we got to know several people - where they were from, how long they were staying in Niagara etc. We met a couple from Saskatchewan, a lovely woman from Cleveland, Ohio, and Marilyn, from Buffalo, NY., who is soon to become another Facebook friend!

After lunch, we drove to the Niagara Parkway, where we went for an hour's walk alongside the river. 

Before we started off, we noticed that there were four elderly ladies sitting at a park bench and watching Emma. We took her over to them and they were delighted! They thought she was marvelous, and we told them that she was glad that we had taken her to see her four new 'aunties'. They were really chuffed at that. I wish we had taken a picture of her with them - they were such lovely people. 

Returning to the car, Emma had another drink and some more treats before we set off for the Falls. She waited patiently with Mark, while I got her bowl out of the trunk. 

She loved sitting with her Uncle Mark while waiting for treats

We have visited Niagara-on-the-Lake many times in the past, and we didn't want to leave her in the car on her own, so we just drove slowly through the town, noticing the beautiful floral displays for which it is so well-known. 

Horse and buggy in Niagara-on-the-Lake

The Prince of Wales Hotel - this picture does not do the gardens justice!

We decided to drive past the Table Rock area (where parking is $22.00), to a smaller parking lot at the Floral Show House (where we paid $5.00 per hour). 

Once again, Emma was thrilled to be out in the open, and posed for several photos along the way back to the Table Rock. We couldn't help but notice the number of people who smiled at her as they passed us. We felt quite important!!! 

She was eyeing the hotels...
Even with the hundreds of people milling around, Emma was so good

Another kiss for Uncle Mark

The couple from Saskatchewan kindly took this picture of the three of us

At Table Rock, we bought a couple of bottles of water and she was happy to drink some from our hands. 

On the way back to the parking lot, she didn't mind us taking a few photos without her in them. 

Beautiful fuschias that were prolific in the area

After another hour, we got back to the car and gave her another drink, and some more treats. She had already relieved herself along the way, so we were able to encourage her to get into the back seat, once more, for the journey home. 

Waiting for a handful of treats

One tuckered doggy, ready for the ride home

'I may be tired, but I don't want to miss anything!

Emma found Niagara-on-the-Lake - and the Falls area - charming, with lots of new tree trunks, fence posts, and bushes to sniff! She certainly won over the people who stopped to have a little time with her, both young and old!

She was a real pleasure to be with and responded well to everything we did with her. She's such a good-natured doggy, and we'll be sad to say goodbye to her on Sunday morning. 


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