a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Apr, 2022

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

I’M BACK AGAIN. This is the most I’ve blogged in awhile, eh? I also have two other posts on the back burner so stay tuned for those. 

I’ve had the AllTrails app downloaded on my iPhone for a while now. We were using it here and there but I’ve decided that we need to explore our local trails more often so the app has moved up in priority. We tend to gravitate to the same woodland rambles (Jack Pine Trail, Lime Kiln et al.) but there are many more we need to hit up!

Enter: Sheila McKee Nature Trail.

I actually had this one bookmarked already. I tend to do this when I hear about a pretty trail in the Ottawa area but then I promptly forget about it. So when Mark suggested we go for a walk in the woods “to that trail with the little waterfall” something tweaked in my memory.

Sheila McKee Nature Trail is a 25-minute drive from where we are, past the Marshes golf course and through Kanata North to Dunrobin. We spied turkey vultures and raptors and lots of geese hunkered down in flooded fields. It is a pretty drive.

Be warned, however, that if you ask your GPS to direct you to Sheila McKee Nature Trail you may actually end up at Sheila McKee Park. This is not where the trail starts. You need to drive a minute or two further down the road. The trail has its own little parking lot. Look for the brown sign… although AllTrails will show you where you are in relation to the trail, so there’s that option as well.

The waterfalls at Sheila McKee, as far as I can tell, are created by streams of water dripping from the side of the small escarpment that runs along the waterfront (sorry, I don’t have the geographical/topographical lingo here). It must depend on the season but it seems the falls are just a very steady drip that freezes dramatically in the winter months, as opposed to a cascade of water one would normally associate with waterFALLS, hence the term. ;)  I would love to know for sure so if you’ve witnessed cascading water, I hope you let me know.

This is the path down to the Ottawa River:

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

… and then there are stairs. (Apparently these are deadly in the winter.)

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

What no one seems to have mentioned in any post that I’ve read about Sheila McKee Nature Trail is the incredible number of skipping stones on the shore. There were countless flat rocks… everywhere. I have never seen so many. When I exclaimed about it, Mark dryly suggested they’ve had a few thousand years to get that way. (THANK YOU MARK, for pointing out EROSION.) :D

We have decided that the next time we come it will be in the summer with a picnic lunch and a flask of something cold and delicious.

Skipping stones! At Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Skipping stones! At Sheila McKee Nature Trail

Sheila McKee Nature Trail

At just over 2K it’s not a long trail, but sometimes that’s all ya need. I also appreciated the fact that it is dog-friendly.

I do recommend it! If you’re not convinced, here are a couple other posts about Sheila McKee Nature Trail.

Related to this: I am very keen to start a summer collection of mushroom and fungi photos with the help of my Seek app. I have yet to find a better freebie app that can ID area plant life. Let me know if you know of a better one! I wonder how many mushrooms I can find this year? (I hope 50+. That’s my goal.)

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16 Apr, 2022

Lunch at Holly’s Hot Chicken

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa,Recipes and Food

Holly doesn’t know this but I’ve been following her story for awhile. I’d see news of her restaurant pop-ups, partnerships with local breweries, reviews of her food. Our youngest also worked with her for awhile, so she was on my radar that way. I hope this doesn’t seem stalkerish, I just really really like fried chicken sandwiches. The sad part of this story is that I was never quite ever able to pull it together enough to make it out to where Holly was serving ’em up. My desire was simply fuelled by social media and reviews and dreams of chicken sandwiches. And then of course the pandemic happened and everything was put on hold.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard she was taking over the old Meatpress place in Hintonburg. This means her famous hot chicken sandwiches would (a) have a permanent presence that is (b) tantalizingly close to where we live.

I was working from home a few days last week and Mark and I decided that Holly’s had to be on our lunch menu. (Side note: a loaner PHEV from Ford also meant we are jumping on any opportunity to take it for a spin, but more on that later!)

It was, admittedly, not an ideal day to go out for lunch. It was rainy. And cold. And the most important question of all: would the sandwich hold up, all wrapped up and transported from there back to here? Turns out I need not have worried.

Holly’s Hot Chicken is in this pretty brick building in Hintonburg. We parked just down the street.

Holly's Hot Chicken has a new home!

I had perused the menu beforehand so I knew what I was getting. We both ordered the Chicken Honey Hot (Nashville-style spicy fried chicken topped with thinly sliced cucumbers, pickled red onions, honey garlic dressing and iceberg lettuce on a bun) and shared a side of cauliflower bites (deep fried cauliflower florets with house spice blend served with a side of house ranch dressing).

Holly's Hot Chicken: placing our order

I knew this was going to be a lot of food but at the last minute I threw caution to the wind and ordered a donut as well. Mark got one too. Here they are, ensconced in this box while we waited for our order:

Holly's Hot Chicken: waiting with donuts in hand

There were a few people ahead of us, which makes me think this is the place you probably want to hit up a few minutes before you reach the point of starvation  OR place your order ahead of time for pick up. Clearly I am not the only one in the vicinity who has a thing for Nashville-style fried chicken.

We brought everything home. Here is a terrible photo of my lunch, taken with messy fingers right after I tore into it. Please forgive me.

Holly's Hot Chicken: sorry for the photo but...

What is hot chicken, other than delicious? According to Wikipedia: Hot chicken (or Nashville hot chicken) is a type of fried chicken that is a local specialty of Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States. In its typical preparation, it is a portion of breast, thigh, or wing that has been marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning, floured, fried, and finally covered in a paste or sauce that has been spiced with cayenne pepper. This method of preparation originates within African American communities in the Southern United States. A richly pigmented seasoning paste gives the fried chicken its reddish hue.

Nashville Hot Chicken! In Ottawa! It is the perfect ratio of spicy, tangy, saucy, crunchy. I am still dreaming about it.

And then there was the donut. Even though I had been holding it while waiting for our order to be ready, it wasn’t until Mark pointed it out at home that I realized how HEAVY it was. I was concerned, and told him as much, just as he was taking his first bite. (He ordered the lemon filling, I ordered the cinnamon bun style.)

“Is it cakey?” I asked. I do not like a cakey donut. He shook his head, mouth full.

I can’t speak for his donut, but I realized why it was heavy as soon as I bit into mine:

Holly's Hot Chicken: THE DONUT

The cinnamon bun donut had a whipped cinnamon CHEESECAKE filling. Yes. I was essentially eating a donut filled with cheesecake. No wonder it outweighed every donut I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot of donuts). It was very good by the way!

Anyway, we were very happy with our meal and I’m already looking forward to a return visit. If you go, let me know how you like it, ok?

Check out Holly’s Hot Chicken menu right here: hollyshotchicken.ca.

13 Apr, 2022


By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Hey you! Hi! How’s it going? It’s been awhile since I’ve updated here but I am keen to get back into the swing of things. Care to say hello? I’m afraid my comments don’t exactly work (and I don’t know how to fix them!) but if you feel like it and have a moment to spare, drop me a line to let me know you’re still here. I’ve missed this; I’ve missed YOU, dear Fishies. I have a lot to share with you in the coming days.

16 Jan, 2022

Surface tension

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

On one hand, I can’t believe it’s already January 16. On the other hand, I am STILL writing 2021 when I have to jot down the date somewhere.

I looked at the last time I posted here and it was NOVEMBER. How is that even possible? Perhaps it’s because I haven’t felt like I have very much to share lately.

The holidays seem like a distant memory although I will say that was a very welcome break and it was so lovely to see my little fam.

Time is somehow folding in upon itself. How does that happen? I feel very much like I’m in a holding pattern, even though I am keenly aware that Things Are Actually Happening Around Me.

We’re approaching the second anniversary of the pandemic. I catch myself wondering how it’s possible we’ve been living with this for two years. TWO. YEARS! And although I’m loath to talk much about Covid and the health of my family in a public space, I will say that we have been personally affected. I had hoped we could remain untouched by Covid, but sadly, that was not to be. We are all ok now. I mention this only in case there is someone reading who thinks this virus is something other people catch. We all mask, we are all vaccinated, we are all cautious, but we still got it.

Stress is a funny thing. Sometimes I feel like I’m a glass of water that is absolutely full to the brim. The surface tension is such that if you look closely, the surface of the water is actually above the rim of the glass. It’s all right now – doing fine, holding tight – but the tiniest of drops will be enough to displace the unbroken and calm layer of water in the glass and cause it to overflow.

It seems to me that my news is old news. I am unenthused about most of it. There’s a major deep freeze happening across the region and we are pretty much shut-ins right now. Yesterday I vacuumed, rearranged some houseplants, gave a few things away on my local Buy Nothing Facebook group (EXTREMELY CATHARTIC. HIGHLY RECOMMEND), dropped off some groceries for someone who is in quarantine, read my book, and watched avian-related antics in the backyard. I will say once again for the record that expanding our bird feeder set up was one of the best pandemic purchases we made. (Thank you M, for your kind email about that!) We also installed a plug-in water warmer for our ground-level bird bath. Mark just shouted from the living room that a crow was availing himself of a long drink. I wonder if it’s the same one who dropped by yesterday, the fellow with the shiny feathers.

22 Nov, 2021

Four tiny words

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life,Multimedia experiments

You can read this post or click here to listen to it on SoundCloud.

I was at the grocery store. I was feeling on edge, in a mood at it were. I had a list of to-dos and frankly I really didn’t want to be there on a Saturday morning. I was in the produce department, debating the merits of buying myself a seven-dollar bag of mini-peppers when I saw a young mother, not wearing a mask. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how much people who aren’t wearing masks stand out. They might as well have a beacon shining out of their foreheads or something.

We live in a time when it’s actually weird to see someone’s entire face.

A wave of annoyance and anger welled up inside of me. And I had questions, lots of questions: Why wasn’t she wearing a mask? Why is she exempt? What is it with people!??

This woman’s son was about five years old. He was cute, doing what kids do, alternately hanging on the cart or running up the aisle. Interestingly, he was wearing a mask.

She and I found ourselves in the same aisle in produce. I debated whether I should say anything. Should I say anything? Or leave it? Ultimately, I could not help myself. I felt the words bursting out of my mouth before I knew it: “You forgot your mask.”

The way I see it, I was stating a fact. I may have sounded judgemental or accusatory, and if so, I didn’t mean to. When I really think back to that moment I felt annoyed and angry, as I mentioned, but also strangely hurt by all of this. I don’t like wearing a mask either, but I do. When I’m wearing it I feel gross and sweaty and I can’t wait to rip it off my face the first chance I get. But I continue to wear it because it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing my part, so why aren’t you, lady?

You forgot your mask.

I actually walked by her as I said it, perhaps subconsciously protecting myself from a potential screaming match with an anti-masker. I don’t know, it’s the coward’s way. As I glided by with my cart, I saw her dive into her purse.

“Oh my goodness, you’re right,” she said. She pulled on the mask. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“No problem. It happened to me last week,” I said. And honestly, it did. I popped into a mall over my lunch break and was so spaced out I didn’t even realize I forgot to put it on until I was a dozen or so steps past the doors.

I overheard the young mother whispering to her son. They were standing next to those seven-dollar peppers I was looking at earlier. “Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t wearing my mask?” she asked him, but I didn’t hear his reply.


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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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