Was it really a cruel summer? My recap of summer 2020

A parallel universe

The summer of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult summers our generation has ever had to endure. Typically, my family and I spend our summers in Croatia, however, we (regrettably) decided not to go due to the pandemic. As you may recall in earlier blog posts, 2019 was a very difficult year for me after my uncle’s sudden passing and 2020 was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Like many of you, I experienced both emotional highs and lows, but at some point I told myself to not give in to negative feelings and try to make the most of this summer.

Was this the worst summer to date? Looking back, it wasn’t really that bad at all. It was very strange in the sense where we did some “normal” things but within the realm of social distancing. In other words, I felt as if we were living in a parallel universe. But for the sake of our kids, we tried to keep things as “normal” as possible: attending Sunday misa (church) at our parish in Oakville, weekly soccer practice in Hamilton, getting together with friends at the park on play dates, going to the zoo, visiting my parents in Windsor and so on. M. and I went out for a few dinner dates as well. As strange as this summer was, we found things to do and made the most out of it the best way we know how: through good food, wine and company.

The holy trinity of food- steak, pizza and fish

In our household, we are definitely foodies and no one can describe it better than my oldest son, T. At his annual check-up at the doctor’s office recently, the doctor asked T. what his favourite food was and he proudly replied “steak!” The doctor was delightfully surprised and sort of taken aback that a six-year-old’s favourite food is steak done rare. Fortunately, our kids like everything we make, from mahune to fish. Growing up in a Dalmatian household, my mother would always ask what we would eat the next day; my aunt used to own a restaurant in Germany, so food is definitely in our genes.

When the lockdown started, my husband made it his life’s mission to re-create the perfect pizza Napolitana as pizza is his all-time favourite food. He spent hours researching the best outdoor pizza oven for it’s value, so low and behold he purchased an Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor pizza oven. He justified the expense by stating that within 6 months the oven will pay itself off and so far it definitely has (nb: we used to order Pizza Nova like every Friday). During the first few weeks of lockdown, my husband would spend his spare time visiting various local Italian bakeries to find the gold standard of pizza flour- Caputo 00. We even planted Roma, cherry and hothouse tomatoes as well as basil for our pizza in our garden this year. Gardening in of itself was a very worthwhile and memorable experience. We got so into pizza making that we spent hours watching different dough recipes on YouTube. After testing a few different recipes, we decided that the one from Vito Iacopelli’s YouTube channel was best for us. How it works is that I make the dough and M. makes the pizza. This recipe from Vito makes approximately nine 12-inch dough balls; we make about 3 pizzas a week so the rest I just store in the freezer. Weekly pizza making is definitely a family affair as our kids get involved too. Overall, pizza making has become a newfound family tradition for years to come.

Another tradition we started in our home was fish Sundays. We decided to bring the shores of Dalmatia closer to home by making seafood and blitva on Sundays after church. If we remember, we order brancin from the local market and M. grills it on the barbeque; but if we don’t get an order in on time, then its either salmon or scallops. Definitely a nice, light lunch to end the weekend paired of course with my favouriite Pošip from Saint Hills.

good things grow in ontario

The pandemic sort of forced us to “think outside of the box” without really going too far. Being a little bit of a wine snob (Brunello being my all-time favourite,) I must say that Ontario wines really surprised me this year. There truly is a pleortha of wineries, markets and restaurants to discover in the Niagara Escarpement and Niagara-on-the-Lake regions. In July, a few of us embarked on a small wine tour with dinner at Treadwell to end the day. Simply put, just being out on the property brings a sense of peace and tranquility. In a COVID world, many of the wineries and restaurants that I have visited have taken the proper steps to ensure safety but still provide an enjoyable experience. Some notable wines/wineries that really stood out to me and worth checking out are Five Rows, Domaine Queylus, Westcott Vineyards, Kabaca, Leaning Post and Pearl Morissette.

Pjesma i vino

Croatia has a long-standing history of producing wines dating back to Ancient Grecian times. In today’s world, Croatia is home to many world-class and unique wineries. Although Zlatan Plavac Sveta Nedelja Plavac Mali will always be my favourite Croatian wine, some notable favourites of mine that were imported from Croatia Unpacked are Korta Katerina’s Rosé and Plavac Mali, Saint Hills “Sv. Roko” Plavac Mali and “Posh” Pošip and finally Stina’s Plavac Mali. Try one of them and you may be pleasantly surprised!

krv nije voda – keeping it in the family

My parents always told me, friends may come and go, but in tough times, we always can rely on family. Although the last six months have been very difficult, there have been moments of complete joy. No one can ever take away that precious extra time I got to spend with my two little boys. This summer was definitely a memorable one, where we became closer as a family and got to explore a bit of Ontario and try some new things out. We visited my family in Windsor a few times and explored Windsor’s Via Italia. Daytrips to zoos were worthwhile, but I found with kids, sometimes the most simplest of activities are the most enjoyable. Walks throughout downtown Burlington over ice cream and exploring new splash pads and parks were probably the most memorable for us.

In summary, although this is a strange and albeit difficult time, the key to making memories are the ones with the people that matter most to you – your loved ones.

Exploring new places, starting new traditions

A wine tour of Twenty Valley, a hidden gem in my very own backyard

When it comes to wine, places like Burgundy, Tuscany and Napa Valley come to mind.  I am not necessarily a wine-connoisseur but I do enjoy some good wine.  I’ve been fortunate to travel to places like Napa Valley and Italy where I’ve gone to wine tours and tastings.   Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, I was well-familiar with Pelee Island and all it’s glory, but I never really thought about Niagara on the Lake or the surrounding areas.   Perhaps because I was so far removed, or never really took some time to consider visiting there.  Since moving to the GTHA, I started to explore various restaurants in the surrounding areas.   It didn’t take me long to realize that you don’t have to travel too far to find good restaurants and wineries, and I am not even talking about going to Toronto!

I’ve been to Niagara on the Lake but I haven’t done it properly, like gone on a proper wine tour.  It all started one afternoon at my niece’s 8th birthday party back in October.  I was talking to a few of my husband’s cousins on how we should get together and what not and how we always do something with the kids, but never just us.  I then said, “I think it would be nice if we all went on a wine tour.”   And like magic, it just happened.  We organized our first ever cousin’s wine tour.

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Just a bunch of cousins hanging out at Westcott Vineyards

We spent a few weeks figuring out where to go, how many wineries to visit and booking a bus.   I booked the restaurant and my cousin-in-law’s husband looked after the wineries.  Luckily, my cousin-in-law’s husband is an expert when it comes to wine, so he put together a lovely roster for our tour.  It worked out that all the wineries were located in Niagara’s Twenty Valley region instead of Niagara on the Lake.

Twenty Valley is located right in between Grimsby and St. Catharine’s and consists of Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan Station and the Town of Lincoln.  Not only is the region home to many world-class wineries, but to breweries, restaurants, markets and much more.  I’ve actually been to Christmas urn-making parties at the Watering Can in Vineland a few times and have been impressed with the beauty it surrounds.

I ended up making a reservation for dinner at Edgewater Manor in Stoney Creek, as it made sense to dine closer to home.

The weather couldn’t have been better for a late-November day as it was sunny.   We started our tour at Hidden Bench Winery, a lovely winery located in Beamsville.  It is a quaint area surrounded by a few barn-houses.  There were 11 of us total in our group and we had our own private tasting room, where we were greeted by some friendly creatures! As we entered our room, a flight of four wines were waiting for us.  We started with their riesling and made our way to the pinot.   It was a nice start to our tour.img_4646
Our next stop was at Tawse, an organic winery with some French flair to it.  This winery is a larger and more-commercialized winery.   We had an hour walking tour of the winery and a private tasting in the cellar.   img_4631I would say the pinot noir was my favourite at this one.  This winery also makes various spirits as well.  The grounds were lovely and had a nice view of the lake from a-far.
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Following this we stopped at Cloudsley Cellars, a smaller, more boutique-style winery.  We had a tasting with the owner, right in the cellar, which made for a more intimate setting.  I would say the chardonnay was my favourite here.

We concluded our wine tour at Westcott Vineyards, a family-owned and operated winery with a beautiful view and equally lovely rose!  I really enjoyed the story behind their “Temperance” wine, inspired by two women who were feminists for their time.  We tasted four wines here and I think the rose was my favourite at this one.
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We had a bit of time in-between the last winery and the restaurant, so we made a quick pit stop for cappuccino and drinks at Cappola’s Ristorante in St. Catharine’s.  My husband’s cousin-in-law grew up in the area and is friends with the owners.   We were greeted with friendly smiles and some Louis Martini!

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Drinking a much needed coffee after a long day of wine touring

We concluded our evening at the historic Edgewater Manor, located on the shores of Lake Ontario in Stoney Creek.  The manor is absolutely beautiful and is well-decorated for the upcoming holidays.   The food was phenomenal and our service was second-to-none. We were surprised by a guitarist who played some lovely flamingo music to us.
img_4703It was overall, a magical experience which made me realize you don’t have to travel too far to experience good food and good wine.  But most importantly, we created a new tradition for us to carry for years to come.