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With the holiday season fast approaching, and my desire for a break rapidly increasing, we thankfully began our final course for the semester: Charcuterie and Buffets.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the term, “charcuterie,” let me simply say this: sausages, pâtés, bacon, smoked and cured meats and fish, stuffed pheasants and game animals, confits and rillettes.

Awesome, eh?

Yeah, I thought as much and thus far I have not been disappointed. After all, unlike the fast-paced, white-knuckle sautéing in the Prairie Lights restaurant, or the batch-cooking chaos of Regional and Seasonal Cuisine, this course is proceeding at a leisurely clip.

And rightly so: curing, brining, smoking, pickling, grinding, stuffing; all good things that come to those who wait.

Despite the unpleasantness of stuffing meat through progressively smaller grinding plates (let along the outright nastiness of doing the same with fish), the process has been both informative and, dare I say, fun.

Think for a moment: how many sausage links or strips of bacon have you consumed in your lifetime? I know I’ve eaten my fair share — and until now, knew nothing of how they were made.

It’s a fascinating process and, frankly, done properly, like the pros of yore, yields products Maple Leaf or Oscar Meyer can’t even come close to replicating.

Seriously.

I had the pleasure of making kielbasa one morning. A f**king revelation.

I kid you not — and I was born and raised in Winnipeg, where kielbasa and perogies and cabbage rolls are as plentiful as smoked meat, bagels and cigarettes are in Montreal.

Of course, simply making all of these amazing products is only half the fun of this particular course. We plate and serve it, too, at expansive Thursday buffets.

And in order to properly display our meat-making handiwork, we prepare show platters, smothered in aspic jelly.

Why pâtés, galantines, terrines and other various meats have fallen out of favour, I know not. I do know this, however: I’m so glad for having had the chance to prepare them, and other charcuterie. For they’re fun to prepare, a feast for the eyes, and a treat to eat with a little cumberland sauce, gherkins and, yes, a cold pint.

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There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I would have seized the opportunity an unexpected long weekend presents to travel. I’d fly out on the Friday night, fly back on the Monday afternoon. Easy.

When I was living in Ottawa, I was able to indulge my jet-setting urges fairly frequently. After all, Ottawa’s proximity (and direct flights) to so many fantastic destinations — Montreal, New York, DC, Chicago — made it relatively painless. Better still, I’d become expert at playing off my two travel rewards programs (Air Canada’s Aeroplan and RBC’s Avion) against each other to my maximum benefit.

But that was then.

Despite having just such a long weekend this weekend, I’ll be staying put. My jet-setting days are over.

Granted, for a brief moment earlier this fall, I was gearing up to make fairly regular trips to Toronto. Air Canada was even offering a student pass that allowed individuals to make six trips to a specific destination. It couldn’t have been more perfect. But things change. Sometimes in an instant. And so, I’m grounded. Indefinitely.

I suppose it’s for the best. As I revealed earlier this month, I’m a student again. I might as well start living like one.

Still, I’m comforted by my fond memories of those many weekend excursions. Each one was an adventure, a marvel, a treat; always to see friends, eat well, laugh lots and soak up the many delights of whatever city I happened to be visiting.

But of all the weekend excursions I made during my extravagant years in Ottawa, I’m proudest of the weekend I spent in London. (England, not Ontario.)

It was the May Long Weekend of 2009. A dear friend of mine was celebrating his birthday around that time and I thought it might be fun to wish him a happy one in person. So, on that fateful Friday morning, I went to work with my weekend duffel and then headed straight to the airport that afternoon. By the next morning, I was eating breakfast in my friend’s kitchen, steps from London’s Pimlico tube station. Amazing.

Anyway, as I said, that was then.

Will I have more amazing weekends in the years ahead? Will I ever again be able to pick up and fly away at a moment’s notice?

Fingers crossed…

The oysters.

I’ll miss those lowly bi-valves, lovingly shucked and plated at one of Ottawa’s best restaurants, The Whalesbone. And I’ll miss their food. And their service. And those LPs. And the Sailor Jerry — that sweet, spicy elixir.

In the years I’ve been in Ottawa, this unassuming resto-bar at the corner of Bank and Gladstone has become my watering hole of choice, my go-to destination for a good time, my satellite office.

My friend Rachelle has already heaped the praise on the Whalesbone and its annual Oyster Fest that the establishment deserves, so I won’t belabour the point; but, it cannot be said enough: Ottawa’s Whalesbone Oyster House is awesome.

And when I Ieave Ottawa, I know I’ll miss the place and its kick-ass staff, many of whom I consider friends.

I know what it seems like: guy befriends staff at drinking establishment: how sad.

Not so.

Ask any urban Ottawan with half a brain and an iota of taste what they’d say is the coolest, tastiest place in town and they’ll say, “the Whalesbone.”

So, yeah, one thing I’ll miss about Ottawa is its extraordinary oyster bar.

Of course, I’ll also miss the friends I’ve made. And the four distinct seasons in this part of the country. And being so close to Montreal, and New York City and Washington, DC. (I can live with being a little father away from Toronto.)

But distance won’t come between me and my friends; nor will it prevent me from visiting DC, NYC or Montreal. (Better still, I’ll be closer to my favourite US city, Chicago.)  Distance will, however, make it more difficult to enjoy a plate of oysters and a pint of Steamwhistle.

Sigh.