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I made cream cheese!

One of my favourite email newsletters (and it’s a short list, trust me) comes from Smitten Kitchen. Some of you will already be familiar with this website, I am sure. It’s kind of famous. I am a fan of its author, Deb Perelman. She’s so charming. I look forward to her recipes and stories, and when I see them in my inbox I think, aha, what’s she cooking up now? It could be anything, whatever is tickling her fancy at the moment. She is a superstar in the kitchen, but not the kind who might intimidate those of us who don’t have the same know-how.

When Deb wrote about making your own cream cheese in her latest newsletter, I snapped to attention. I wasn’t just going to bookmark this one for future consideration, no siree, I HAD TO MAKE IT.

So on Sunday I went for a stroll to pick up fresh bagels and the handful of ingredients I needed to make my own cream cheese at home. You know what? Deb was (once again) tellin’ it straight. She wrote that it was “unbelievably easy,” and she was right.  What’s more, it was immensely satisfying to see it all come together. It’s very nice to make something yourself, even if it’s something relatively mundane, don’t you think? (eg. English muffins or yogurt.)

Yes, it’s easy. And customizable! You can leave the cream cheese plain or add other things to it and truly make it your own. I made a batch with chives snipped from the backyard and a clove of juicy local garlic but you could also add some strawberry jam (next on my list), or chopped veggies.

I sampled the cream cheese when it was still warm, and it was good, but I preferred it cooled in the fridge after the flavours settled and it solidified a bit more. Here’s where I should mention that homemade cream cheese does not have the same texture as, say, a brick of Philadelphia (solid and tangy). It’s more like Western brand of cream cheese, which is lighter and frothier if you know what I mean. It’s hard to pinpoint, but also has a slightly different flavour profile. It’s kind of like being asked to describe the difference between canned pineapple and fresh pineapple. They are both pineapple, sure, but not the same.

I made cream cheese!

I’m sad to report that half of my batch of cream cheese is gone already. It’s TOO GOOD on crackers. I also enjoyed it for lunch today on a bagel, topped with a healthy amount of smoked salmon, onion, capers, and lettuce.

I made cream cheese! (It's excellent on a bagel with smoked salmon)

I will definitely make my own cream cheese again! I also think it would be neat to bring this to a brunch or breakfast potluck… if we ever have potlucks again. Sigh.

Here’s Deb’s recipe if you want to try it yourself. (I hope you do! Let me know how yours turned out.)



Earlier this month we set out on a road trip. The occasion was Mark’s birthday, and the birthday tradition in our house dictates that the birthday boy or girl gets to set the agenda for family activities or celebratory dining. Mark’s destination of choice was Kingston. The youngest is living/studying there right now and we wanted to visit (and stock up her fridge and pantry) and he thought it would be nice to celebrate as a family. (FYI, I made a dinner reservation on the back patio at Woodenheads. If you like pizza, you’ll like Woodenheads too.)

Since it was Mark’s day, we stopped in Brockville on the way. It was his birthday wish to see the Brockville Railway Tunnel, the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. I’d seen bits and bobs about the railway tunnel here and there, but wasn’t quite sure whether it would be worth pulling over for. Was it a light show? Or was it a historical exhibit? Well, I’m happy to say it’s BOTH, and it’s fabulous, in a way only a historical light show can be.

If you have a hankering for an easy little road trip right now, do it. Brockville is a relatively short drive from Ottawa and the whole thing is actually pretty novel.

According to the Brockville Railway Tunnel website, the season runs until mid-October but can change without notice due to Covid protocols not being followed.

It is, in fact, the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. Built between 1854 and 1860, it’s surprisingly long at 1721 feet. It’s an easy stroll along a wide concrete sidewalk. There are a surprising amount of things to spot in this particular underground rail tunnel –  informational panels as well as cool rock/ stalactite formations – and the lighting compliments it very nicely. It probably takes 20-30 minutes to walk from end-to-end, depending of course on how much you linger and how many photos you take.

Brockville Railway Tunnel entrance

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Moss growing inside the Brockville Railway Tunnel

The Brockville Railway Tunnel has a lot going for it. Admission is by donation, it’s accessible (perfectly fine for strollers/wheelchairs), parking is free and nearby, even dogs are allowed. It’s right near a waterfront park, so if you have squirrelly kids and you want to run them ragged before piling back into the car, this is the place to do so.

The single negative I have about our experience is that there were quite a few non-mask wearers while we were there. It’s possible the message is finally getting through now and there’s better mask wearing now as opposed to when we went, but we were dismayed to see people going in without a mask even though signage clearly states otherwise. (I didn’t worry too much. The tunnel is spacious and essentially outdoors, but it still bothered me and thought it was worth noting here.)

I also have miiiiilllllld regrets about not grabbing a bite at Don’s Fish & Chips while we were in Brockville, but as Mark pointed out, delicious pizza awaited us and it would have been a bit much food to take in during a span of only a few hours.

All in all, the Brockville Railway Tunnel is a great little stop on the way to Kingston.

Have you been? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Run for Women is a major fundraiser that supports women’s mental health programming at The Royal. If you’d like to toss a dollar or two in my collection tin you can do so right here. Thank you!

05 Sep, 2020

With apologies to John Ceprano

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

As much as I admire the rock sculptures made by John Ceprano near Remic Rapids, I am disappointed every time I bike by and see his work cordoned off with security tape.

I can’t remember when this started. I just remember going there one year, and there it was. Suddenly, every year after that, the public was not allowed in this public space.

I understand why this is the way it is: He’s an artist who works hard making these sculptures and it must be very frustrating to have them knocked down by local hooligans, but I can’t help but feel that closing them off this way is somehow…. wrong.

I was particularly pleased to find a new place on the water (new to me, anyway), just east of the Champlain Bridge. It’s just along the pedestrian path by the Ottawa River.

If you want to find it, look for a slight rise, and these trees:

Secret entrance

The first time I ventured down this little path I saw that someone builds towers of rocks here. (Or maybe it’s many someones?)

When I go, it’s just me and the birds, ducks, and chipmunks. There is no security tape.

I have been back here many times this summer.

Rock sculptures along the Ottawa River

Sometimes I just sit and stare at the water. Sometimes I talk to the ducks. Sometimes I collect rocks. Sometimes I build a sculpture of my own.

It is satisfying to hold those rocks in my hands. They were here long before I was, and will remain here long after I am gone.

My own creation

Rock sculptures along the Ottawa River

Rock sculptures along the Ottawa River

Rock collecting by the Ottawa River

Curious ducks

I like to think about the people who pile these stones and leave their mark, temporary as it may be.

Some of the rock sculptures inevitably get knocked over, whether it’s by the weather or otherwise. I am ok with this. The impermanence of these stone markers is probably what I like most about this place.

I enjoy this nameless place more than the one everyone visits to see the “real” stone sculptures. It has more meaning for me knowing these could be here one day and not the next. I build one; it could be gone tomorrow. It is life itself.

Somehow enjoyed the view here before me

Edited to add: Mark pointed out to me that the issue probably isn’t with hooligans, but with people getting injured by falling rocks. He’s probably right that the city is cordoning off part of the river because of potential liability. Although I certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt, I still think it’s an unsightly overreach. More injuries probably happen in city parks and beaches every year. What do you think?



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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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