livingfamilytravelmediahome decor

Sometimes the best birthday present for your Mom isn’t a present afterall (or a night out in Ottawa: Allium restaurant and Lynne Hanson CD-release concert)

Lately, I’m finding it tough to pick out gifts for my Mom. It’s not that she’s picky or hard to find things for … it’s just that I feel like she already has the things she really wants. With all four of her birds out of the nest, she has the freedom to buy the things that catch her eye.

So for her birthday this year, I decided that I’d take her out for a night on the town. To come up with ideas, I did what now comes natural to me — I asked my twitter friends. And as usual, they came through with some great ideas. @SaraCooper suggested taking my Mom out to listen to Dan Heath, co-author of New York Times #1 bestsellers Made to Stick and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard on October 14th, while @StephaniaMoffatt suggested tea at Zoe’s, in the Chateau Laurier. In the end, I decided to follow a suggestion from my friend Katharine at Girl About O-town.

Katharine had suggested First Thursdays Art Walk. What this is: the first Thursday of each month, a group of art galleries in the Wellington West area of Ottawa stay open late until 9pm to invite people on an art walk of the area. I have to admit that the thing that excited me most was that my Mom was actually going to be in town for the first Thursday to do this (she travels a lot for work). With this kind of planning luck in my corner, I felt that First Thursdays was destined to be our destination for the evening! So, I had the evening carved out like this:

1. Leave work early for a dental appointment at 4pm
2.  Get home, drop my bags, kiss the family and run out the door at 5pm to pick up Mom
3. Pick up extra Girl Guide cookies for our troupe on the way to the restaurant
4. Arrive to Allium restaurant on Holland Avenue for a 5:45 reservation
5. Meet @HeatherinOttawa to let her buy some cookies (the girl NEEDED these cookies!)
6. Take short few steps to the GCTC to meet the guide for First Thursdays Art Walk at 7pm
7. Enjoy the Art Walk from 7 to 9 pm

The evening progressed remarkably on schedule — my Mom and I easily loaded 10 cases of cookies into my trunk and we arrived to Allium on time.

I’d picked the Allium restaurant because of its proximity to the First Thursdays Art Walk. But I now know that doing so was a disservice! The place is a real gem and is worth any drive, really. It wasn’t just the food — which was particularly spectacular. Or the excellent wine selections, which were indeed excellent. What really made our night was that this great food and wine was accompanied by some of the best service I’ve experienced. Our server was really attentive. But in just the right way. My Mom and I both commented on it and felt that the service at Allium was really refreshing.

Okay, so back to the food! First, Allium offers a “surprise” appetizer selection. You put your hands in the chef for an appetizer and a wine selection to go with it. You don’t know what it will be, but you can advise the server of any allergies or particular food preferences. We decided to go for it! And here’s what we got:

We sort of looked at it and shrugged. But we were wrong. The combination of tastes was really amazing. It included heritage beets, goat’s cheese, toasted almonds and duck confit. And although we were sharing the one appetizer, it was strangely filling. We hoped we were going to be able to eat our meals!

Here is the meal I had:


It was: Quinoa Cakes/Squash Puree/Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms/Goat Cheese/ Walnuts/Maple-Balsamic/Parmesan. And it was so darn good.

So Mom and I are having a grand old time, chatting and eating and drinking and then — bam! — I look at the time. It’s 7:39 pm. Yep, that’s right … I’ve missed my meeting time for @HeatherinOttawa and the First Thursdays Art Walk! Typical me.

Heather was gracious and simply appeared like magic when I tweeted her (almost 40 minutes later from our original time!). And then Mom and I walked up to the GCTC to get the map so we could do our own self-guided tour for the Art Walk.

As we walked into the GCTC, I said, “Hey, it looks like a show is just starting!” Mom said, “Let’s do it!” I quickly bought two tickets and we walked right in.

I had assumed it would be a theatre show of some sort, but by the looks of the stage, it was a music show. Mom and I looked down at our tickets after we got seated and saw the name Lynne Hanson. We didn’t know who she was, but — hey — we were there and ready to enjoy ourselves!

As it turns out, we were in for a treat. Lynne Hanson is what is called a “roots” musician. To my Mom and I, it sounded like an interesting combination of country and folk music. And here is how her music was described in the September issue of Exclaim! magazine:

“Building on the momentum of two solid releases and a nomination for the 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards, Once the Sun Goes Down is another step up for Lynne Hanson. With Gillian Welch-inspired folk flair, Hanson proves she has intimate storytelling down to an art. Her performance is heartfelt and her tunes have that get-stuck-in-your-head quality. Opener “When Lovers Leave” and “Three Times Bent” are delicate ballads that compel you to sing along. The Southern country gal, by way of Ottawa, who describes her style as “porch music with a little Texas red dirt,” shores up her tales of heartbreak and unrequited love with feisty guitar licks and jaunty banjo lines.”

So here were my Mom and I (suburb gals through and through!), tapping away to this “porch music with a little Texas red dirt” — it was fabulous!

Lynne told stories as she introduced songs, and you could feel the great chemistry she had with her fellow bandmates. (If you’d like to hear a bit of her music, you can listen in by clicking here.) My Mom was particularly impressed with just how comfortable this woman was in her own skin. You really just wanted to have a beer with her after the show. Other than the ridiculous MC, the show was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Lynne Hanson

So there you have it my friends — that was my Mom’s birthday gift. And although it didn’t go as planned really, I almost think that’s what my Mom enjoyed the most  …. just being spontaneous and going with the flow.

And how did she like not receiving a traditional gift? Well, I got an email with the subject line “You’re the best!” first thing the next morning. In the body fo the email, she said she’d like a night-out to be her birthday gift from now on.


  1. My mom has enough cash that she usually suggests hand lotion for her bday/Xmas/whatever… time is usually what with me and the fam is usually what she’s after.

    Sounds like a great evening.

  2. Sounds like a great night out, I love spending time with my Mom when we can steal some time away from our hectic lives!

    I saw a pic of you in another blog post from a ballet class and it made me freak out a little…I can’t believe we are now both in our 40’s and you’re selling Girl Guide cookies…wtf happened? 😀

  3. Awesome! Sounds like it was a great evening, and based on the email you received, it sounds like there will be many more! I hope you wished your Mom Happy Birthday from me….

  4. What a gift! That sounds like a really cool night.

    You got me curious with that restaurant now… looks like the combination of foods I would truly enjoy.

  5. dog i miss exclaim magazine

  6. Nat – so true. time really is the richest thing to give, isn’t it?

    Laura – how many times do I have to tell you that I’m not 40 yet, just you are!

    girlaboutOtown – It was great … and now you’ll need to do the First Thursdays with me!

    Zhu – it’s a great restaurant. Try Monday nights – it’s a tapas night. Yummmmm

    Ads – What, no exclaim magazine in Korea? Better come home soon then!

  7. I love Allium. I’ve been perfecting a carrot and brie soup that I had there once and got into a cook-off with my friend trying to recreate.

    What a wonderful night. I love taking my mother out, but she’s less good with the improvising and last-minute change-ups.

    Also? You ‘put your hands in the chef’? He must have been a very accomodating fellow as well a great cook. :)

  8. oh man that sounds like a great time! i wish i was there to tag along.

    and wow, did you really do a good job of making me look bad this year =)

  9. boy i spent a long time making presents!! i didn’t know she only wanted tospend some time with me. i guess i’ll have to wait for next year=)

Speak Your Mind