Thursday, March 22, 2018

and Edwin, the cat.

We named him after a pig's pet in a children's story, but we usually called him, simply, "Ed."

As a young kitten, he tore around our house with more energy than our two young daughters, combined. When he started sinking his claws into our fabric-covered furniture, I swore that we needed to get rid of him.

I threatened, half-heartedly, that if one single nail touched my favourite leather sofa, I would kill him myself. Over time, though, he settled down and became the gentlest, most loving cat I have ever known.

After Edwin passed away, on Tuesday, after a short-lived but aggressive illness, DW and I talked about the memories we shared, and about how we would never forget him. As soon as she, the kids, and I returned from the veterinary hospital (I hate that hospital: I've now taken two cats there but have left without either), DW sat down at our computer and wrote the following tribute on her Facebook page. With her permission, I'm sharing it—mostly, because she put her thoughts on that page so well; but also, because there was very little that I could add, myself...

Today, it is with deep sadness that we say farewell to our family cat, Edwin. We are grateful that his illness was not prolonged, and that he enjoyed a great quality of life.

We picked Edwin out at the Ottawa Humane Society almost 13 years ago—a four-month-old kitten that had just been separated from his brother and was completely hoarse from his cries of protest. I fell in love with his velvety black fur, his sorrowful voice, and the light and energy in his green eyes.

It took a while to come up with a name. The kids were 2 and 4 years old at the time, and we were reading picture books every night. It wasn’t too long before we decided on the name Edwin, directly out of one of our picture books, Ian Falconer’s book, Olivia.

Edwin was a rambunctious kitten, but we planned to keep him indoors, like our previous cat, Leo. Edwin had other plans. He’d clearly been outside before, and every time we opened a door, he was out like a shot. He garnered the nickname “Fast Eddy” from our neighbours, Marc and Vicki, who would cat-sit from time to time.

Edwin was a neighbourhood cat. Most of our neighbours knew him well, as he made his way along the top of the back fences, visiting his cat friends, catching mice, and sadly, despite the bell on his collar, the occasional bird. The starlings near our house would heckle him and I’ve witnessed a full-on dive-bomb. He didn’t seem very territorial so he got along with most of the local cats (more of a lover than a fighter). Our neighbours have told us tales of his adventures, intervening on behalf of a fellow cat in need. He once fended off a large cat who was closing in on our neighbours’ leashed cat. Another neighbour told us that he defended his small female cat from another large cat that would come and pick fights with her.

Can a cat be a “gentleman”?

Edwin loved to be near people—the neighbourhood kids, visitors, and our family. He was never a lap cat but stayed close, and liked to cuddle beside me in bed in the morning, purring (better than any alarm). He knew when you weren’t feeling well and would stick by your side until he knew things were looking up.

His purr was unbelievable—you’d think there was a large truck outside. He was a cat of few words, meowing only when he had something specific to say, “I need out now. NOW!”, “Hey, I could use some more food,” “Let me in...pleeeease.” And if the cat equivalent of a firm handshake is a knockout head-butt, Edwin had that down, too.

He was beyond special to us. He was one classy fella, and we will miss him dearly.

Edwin was surrounded by his loving family, to the very end. DD14 held a paw, would not let go. He licked one of her fingers, seemingly trying to calm her, to try and alleviate her tears. He purred until his very last breath. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dining In The Dark

I wasn't sure if this was going to work. Not with one over-energetic and one anxious teenager.

My kids like predictable situations, ones that come without surprises. When DW and I try to introduce new foods, new travel destinations, or new activities, the initial reaction from our daughters is a resounding "No."

On the first evening that we arrived in Montreal, last week, we took the kids to a familiar dinner spot. It's pretty hard for anyone in our family to say no to pizza, and when you're staying a short walk from the best pizza place in this city, Il Focolaio, it was a unanimous "Yes." Luckily, this time, there was no waiting—there's often a line out the door and around the corner—and we were seated right away.

Everyone was happy. This is a restaurant we visit almost every time we're in Montreal.

On the next day, we spent a lot of time walking around the downtown core. We were exploring options for universities for the girls, even though we really don't need to start for DD17 until this summer and DD14 won't be going anywhere for another four years.

But we arranged a tour for the following day, at Concordia, for DD17, and had already set up a tour of the Schulich School of Music, at McGill University, for DD14. In between, we wandered the Eaton Centre, for shopping, and the downtown streets, for me, to take random snapshots (which I will share this Wednesday). Nearly 15,000 steps later, I was tired and had no idea of where to take our kids for a bite.

DW searched MTL Blog for fun places to eat, and after seeing the first recommendation, she passed her smartphone to me. I read it and was also fascinated by the first option, but didn't know if it was the right place to take the kids. Maybe, I thought, DW and I would make a trip on our own, in the spring, and check it out.

I read the other top recommendations, stopped on a restaurant that was featuring cabaret shows with the meal, but wasn't sure if any of us had the energy to listen to loud music: on that night, the show was full-on Flamingo dancing.

We talked some more about the first option, and finally decided to give it a try.

As expected, DD14 put up a resistance to the menu. "There's nothing that I like," she said, dismissively.

We were sitting in the bar area of the restaurant, which was also the staging area, so to speak. Old filament-styled bulbs, that are trendy at so many restaurants, hung from the ceiling over the bar and some tables. Candles burned at tables, which could seat about 16 to 20 people.

I pointed out an option on the menu, something that I had already decided upon. "They have a shrimp dish with pineapple and rice." I knew she loved shrimp and pineapple, and she agreed to order that. DD17 and DW ordered an appealing salmon filet. Each dish would also include a mystery vegetable.

The menu was set for either two or three courses, and we opted for the former, with a main and dessert. DD17 and I went for the chocolate mousse: DD14 ordered the sorbet, and DW went for the mystery dessert to complete her meal.

When we ordered, we were also asked about any food allergies, and I laid mine out, as they are extensive. Throughout my meal, our server, Rodrigo, teased me about apples. DD14 voiced her allergy of hazelnuts, and our orders were complete.

From this staging area, we were led to our table. And here's the part of our dining experience that I've left off: we were going to be eating in total darkness.

Onoir Restaurant & Bar
124 Rue Prince Arthur East
Montreal QC

When our table was ready, Rodrigo told DW to place her hand on his shoulder. I placed my hand on hers, and the girls followed suit. We entered a dark room and then went through a second, in utter blackness. We were led to our chairs, asked to sit, and to pull our chairs and ourselves as close to the table as possible. Rodrigo told us that it was important to stay seated and to keep our chairs in place, so that he and the other servers did not bump into us with food or drinks. He had us feel the table surface, to acquaint ourselves with where our cutlery was.

Ahead of us was a small dish, holding individual servings of butter. We were asked to keep that plate in place. When we were brought our drinks, we were told to place the glasses immediately to the right of the butter plate and to never leave anything on the placemats.

If we needed Rodrigo for anything, we were to simply call his name: if he did not acknowledge us right away, it meant that he was out of earshot. At most, he would be away for a minute or two. Only once did we have to wait more than a few seconds for him to appear.

At one point, we were talking about the decor, which we couldn't see. I guessed that the table cloth was black, to maintain the darkness. Others at my table guessed red or even white.

"The next time Rodrigo comes to our table," I suggested, "we'll ask him."

Immediately, Rodrigo spoke up. "Ask me what?"

Service was impeccable.

DW and the kids said that even though there was no visual difference between eating with their eyes opened or closed, they seemed to feel more disoriented when they closed their eyes. I ate with my eyes closed for about half of the meal, and noticed no difference. But one thing was certain: all of use were enjoying this unique dining experience.

The shrimp were enormous, tender, and while not fresh, delicious. The rice was perfectly cooked, and the pineapple was sweet and juicy. DW and DD17 said the salmon was excellent but difficult to eat without sight, as the flakes often fell off their forks.

The mystery vegetable seemed a bit of a challenge. At first, I thought it was carrot, but there was something more to it. At one moment, I suggested rutabaga, but DW said "definitely not." It wasn't bitter enough to be that rutabaga. I said that if it wasn't rutabaga, it had to be carrot.

It was rutabaga.

Have you ever eaten chocolate mousse in total darkness? It isn't easy. I would be confident that I had some on my spoon, only to find the spoon empty when it reached my mouth. DW touched a lot of her food, but the kids and I were determined to avoid that.

We weren't animals: we were doing some fine dining.

We talked, we laughed. Not once did we look around to see what others were doing. Not once did we check our smartphones or watches (we were asked to turn off all light-emitting devices before we were led into the dining area).

The best part was that everyone had a great time, including our picky kids.

"Would you do this again?" I asked them, as we were finishing the meal.

DD17 said that she would love to come back with some friends.

DD14 said that she'd never do it as a blind date. "It would be great for a blind date if you were brought in separately," I said. "You are forced to talk, to learn about each other's interests. If you get along and enjoy yourselves, what does it matter how you look?"

The meals weren't cheap: for the two-course dinner, it was $35. Add drinks, taxes, and tip, and you are over $200 for four people. But for dinner with the family, where there were no distractions, with delicious food and great service, it was totally worth it.

We'll be back.

When we returned to our hotel, DW checked Facebook and learned that some of our friends from Ottawa had been dining at Onoir at the same time as us.

"Funny, we didn't see you there," is the comment she posted.