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Family birthday photo

The best family photo we could get… The candle is blown out, we should be eating cake!

Today we celebrated Baby’s first birthday! As my cousin wrote me this week: a year with a kid goes by quickly, even when some of the days go by very slowly. So here we are. Year One gone already.

Since this day last year, I’ve watched Baby grow: from 8lbs to approx. 25 lbs, from 52 cm to approx. 71 cm. Watch out — she can reach what’s on the table now! She seems so big compared to this time last year, and yet she’s still so small.

She has six teeth and is taking her first steps. She went from dark hair to light hair. I remember wondering back then what she would look like in a year. I couldn’t imagine it, and now I can’t imagine her any other way.

I’ve also watched Baby develop into an alert, bright, curious, determined, energetic, lively, playful and social little person. It’s fun to be with her. Her giggle is infectious. She brings out the crazy in both her parents, especially her papa! And every day she does a bunch of quirky little things that make us both laugh.

Her fun these days is making music; squishing blueberries at breakfast; pulling anything with a string; playing with water; swings; books, especially turning the pages; riding in the bike trailer; and climbing over any obstacle, none of which are too big.

Baby making music

Baby making music with instruments received from maman and papa.

Baby exploring tunnel

Baby getting ready to crawl through her birthday tunnel.

It’s fascinating to watch Baby play and figure things out. The wheels in her brain are turning all the time. Sometimes I just sit and watch with quiet wonder.

We invited family for lunch to share the celebration. On the menu: gazpacho, slow-roasted salmon, a wild rice, corn and Swiss chard toss, goat cheese with fresh herbs, and peach blueberry cake with whipped cream. Even though it was quite an “adult” menu, it included some of her favourite foods: salmon, goat cheese, corn, rice, peaches and blueberries!

Baby eating birthday cake

Baby eating peach blueberry birthday cake. Yum!

Now Baby is asleep, and it’s time for us “new parents” to start our own BIRTHday ritual: bubbles after bedtime. As we get ready to raise our glasses, we’re reliving some of the moments surrounding Baby’s arrival and celebrating the day that changed and enriched our lives forever, being parents, and making it through the year with a bit more wear but no tear. Cheers to that!

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Corn and fish chowder

Crisp. Creamy. Sweet. Summer. Corn and fish chowder. I had a small yellow zucchini I needed to use, so I added it too.

The corn is ripe (two weeks early!). That means one thing for me: time to make corn chowder. It’s a summer ritual. I look forward to it every year.

Paired with a crisp white and followed with a blueberry tart, it’s a quintessential summer dinner. The only thing that would make this menu even better is starting with something that included fresh peaches, like this salad.

Recipe: Corn and Fish Chowder

This recipe is inspired by Saveur Magazine’s Lobster and Corn Chowder. Makes approximately 10 bowls.

2 1 cm thick slices of bacon, cut into lardons
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 white potatoes, cubed
fresh corn kernels, cut from 6-8 ears
2 tbsp olive oil
several sprigs thyme/lemon thyme
1 bay leaf
3 lbs firm white fish (cod/monkfish/… I’ve used haddock too. A combination provides different tastes and textures), cut into 1″ cubes
6 cups vegetable bouillon
1 ½ cups full cream
½ tsp cayenne, ground
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute the bacon lardons until crisp. (We used bacon from Aubrey’s and it was so meaty that we had to add the oil to the pot immediately to prevent it from sticking. Evidence of a high quality product!) Remove the lardons from the pot and drain on a paper towel. If there is a lot of fat in the pot, remove some of the fat.

Add the olive oil to the pot. Add the onion, garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme (keep one for later) and bay leaf. Cook over low heat until onion is translucent. Add the celery and corn. Increase heat to medium and saute for 5 minutes. Add the potato and vegetable bouillon. Bring to just below a simmer and cook until potato is tender.

Add the fish (slower cooking one first if using a combination). Cook until fish is done, 6-8 minutes, keeping the soup just below a simmer. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Stir in the cream, cayenne, half of the chopped parsley and thyme leaves from the remaining sprig. Heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle into bowls, top with some lardons, and sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley.

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Whalesbone oyster shucker

Shucking oysters for one of many oyster platters served at Whalesbone.

The Whalesbone Oyster House gets positive press and comes highly recommended by friends. I finally made it there last week and it was love at first bite, literally. Soon after being seated, we were served bread and butter. The butter was different. It had a nutty, toasted flavour. Beautiful. Turns out they heat butter until the milk solids caramelize (make brown butter/ beurre noisette), then mix it back into softened butter. Wow, what a great start!

Although there were several tempting dishes on the menu, we chose the four-course tasting menu. When asked if we had any allergies, I suddenly realized I had a dilemma… I don’t like seafood. Fish, yes. Seafood, not so much (and I’ve tried). But either the whole table takes it or no-one gets it. So, I went for it (no mussels or clams) and thankfully so! Not only did I try new things, but the meal was simply sublime.

Scallop tartare

Scallop tartare with cucumber. A delectable mouthful, captured just before the last bite disappeared.

First, tender and sweetly of sea-tasting scallops contrasting with the sweet crunch of cucumbers and the salty crunch of fleur de sel, balanced by the acidity of a blood orange vinaigrette, rounded out by soft, creamy goat cheese.

Second, bright green spring peas and asparagus with grilled morels and fresh herbs hosting the red-speckled flesh of a lobster claw.

At this point, all the tables around us were getting fresh oysters. David couldn’t resist. We ordered a four-oyster palate cleanser. The XL Angel from B.C. was the size of the palm of my hand. We discovered the difference in taste between farm bed-raised oysters and ones finished on the beach, i.e. left to roll in the surf. The latter have more flavour. We also learned how baby oysters are made.

Then, salmon on a bed of pre-summer succotash (corn, tomatoes, small gnocchi, ramps). And, to end it all, sundaes with Pascale’s vanilla ice cream and deliciously fun and fresh toppings.

As I left the restaurant, I almost felt guilty. Did I cheat on the Wellington Gastropub, my other favourite restaurant? Blushing yes. My first date at Whalesbone was such an exceptional experience, that it now shares first place for favourite restaurant on my palate.

Why I ♥ Whalesbone Oyster House

  • The food is fresh and perfectly prepared. I want to say that you can tell there are women in the kitchen, but there’s no way I could prove that!
  • It’s Ocean Wise certified. The fish, oysters and seafood come from sustainable sources.
  • Staff is friendly, attentive, patient, and knowledgeable.
  • The kitchen is tiny and open. You can see the chef at work. The counter that divides the kitchen from the restaurant is home to fresh sprouts. Snip and plate.
  • The restaurant is cozy. The atmosphere is happy, warm and welcoming. There’s a sense of humour in the décor.
  • Chances are high that you’ll have a friendly conversation with the people at the next table.
  • It has a retail store, where you can buy fresh fish, oysters and seafood, smoked fish and a brown bag lunch.

Things to be aware of:

  • It’s snug. Not much space for private conversations.
  • Seating is limited. Best to make a reservation.

Story from our evening at Whalesbone Oyster House

On May 12, La Presse published an article about Ottawa, which listed some of the great shops and restaurants in Ottawa. Whalesbone was on the list. As we were digging into dessert, two older gentlemen came into the restaurant with this article from La Presse. No tables available, so they took two seats at the bar. It turns out they had come from Montreal to eat at Whalesbone! No doubt, it was worth the drive.

Epilogue

It’s May 23 and I just found a blog post by Lynne Frappier—from inside the kitchen on that same evening—about the same two gentlemen!

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

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