Sunday, 20 August 2017

Clinging To Summer: expeditions and eggplants

Ah, August. Does anyone else feel as though they have to spend every waking minute outside or else the Summer Fairy might come along and peevishly take back this good weather? I guess this feeling is exacerbated by all the free time I have because: teacher. I have another 3 weeks (exactly) of freedom, and while I have to start prepping for my various classes, I plan on continuing to spend a lot of time outdoors.

I love my home, but being in a basement suite- even one which is more of a "garden suite",  barely below ground- means that I have to step outside to really get an idea of what the weather is doing.  So that's partly it. Also, I'm still on this health kick, and nervously sure that if I take a day off from moving my body in some way, I will turn back into a dough-y couch potato for good.

This weekend has been particularly active, kind of as an antidote to feeling let-down. My sweetie and I had made vague plans to get away on a bicycle trip this weekend, but he was too busy and I was too broke to make that a reality.  So I resolved to make as much fun for myself as I possibly could, with an emphasis on things that were affordable (free, if possible), outdoors-y, and healthy.

Reader, I succeeded! In fact, it's been such a lovely weekend that I'm not even sorry we didn't get away, although I can always use more time with my love. Here's what I've been up to so far:

  • On Thursday, I biked all the way to Richmond for a job interview, Then I biked over to the Flying Beaver Pub, which is pure heaven because it is situated by two things I love: water (the Fraser River), and the airport. In case you don't know this about me, I am a giant nerd about planes, and even though I don't love flying in them, I do love watching them take off and land. The bigger the better. I biked around Richmond and back to Vancouver and then I think I slept for about 10 hours because I was exhausted. But oh, so happy. (I'm not going to review the food at the Beaver because it's pretty standard pub food; neither particularly good nor particularly lousy. I find that if you've exercised at all in order to get there, you'll enjoy the food more than if you drive.)
  • On Friday, I hiked to Quarry Rock, in Deep Cove. I made this a weekday trip as I'd heard it was a popular destination, but it was still super-busy. If you like solitude, this hike is definitely not for you. At just over an hour (round-trip, and for me, although I seemed to walk at a fairly average pace compared to others on this hike) it's not very challenging, and I saw little kids, little dogs, and poorly-shod tourists all successfully navigating the trip. The woods are green, shady, and calming, even though you might be weaving your way around children or little old ladies. Quarry Rock itself has a gorgeous view back into Deep Cove, across Indian Arm to Belcarra Park, and even back towards the city, although the sight of so many people taking selfies is a bit off-putting. I mean, I love social media, but come on! My favourite sighting was of a French family I passed on the way to the rock. Papa was clutching a large box of Honey's Donuts, which was clearly an excellent incentive for the rest of the family to follow him all the way along the trail. When they got to Quarry Rock they sat on the smooth stone ground and eagerly opened the black cardboard box. A well-earned snack! Honey's is a Deep Cove institution, and it was packed when I finished my hike. I virtuously avoided the donuts, but ordered a ham sandwich. Several dollars cheaper than at most other cafes, it came absolutely packed with black forest ham, cheddar, and not too much mayo. Perfect. And even though Honey's was so busy, it took almost no time at all. I was seriously impressed! (True story: as I was reading some Yelp reviews just now to get a feel of what others thought about Honey's Donuts, I saw one that said "Was very knowledgeable and down to earth. As well they have a naturopath on hand for any questions." This seemed odd, until I realized I was reading an add for another place altogether! Anyway, you probably won't find a naturopath at Honey's (unless they're over there on a break), but it's a must-visit if you go to Deep Cove, even if you're avoiding donuts.)
  • Yesterday was the opening day at the PNE, so I enticed my sweetie to leave his work for a while and come with. Added incentive: admission was only $1.50 with the wearing of a red item of clothing! Absurdly clad in a red dress with white polka dots (me) and a dark red dress shirt (him), we biked over to the fair with great expectations of greasy treats. I always love seeing what the ridiculous trends in fair-food are going to be. This year's seems to be chocolate cotton candy, which sounds... unappealing. We were there for Waffles With Benefits, the only time I will cop to liking chicken with waffles. However, I was underwhelmed this year. Perhaps it was because it was my third summer in a row trying them, or because the teenagers making them weren't putting a hell of a lot of loving care into them, or just... ennui? The waffles were dry, the cheese sauce on my Buffalo Chicken waffle was bland, and there was't a shred of the promised arugula. I think I have exorcised the waffle demon for good. If you're battling your sugar and deep-fry nemeses, there's not a heck of a lot you can eat at the PNE. Even the drinks are almost certain to be packed with sugar. I finally found a place selling only 2 things: blended watermelon, or blended pineapple; mixed with ice and served either in a cup (8 dollars- yikes), or in a hollowed-out melon (or pineapple) FOR A CRIMINAL TWELVE DOLLARS OH MY GOD PEOPLE HOW IS THIS LEGAL??? There's also a dim sum truck selling steamed shrimp dumplings which I love, so when I returned to the fair after a 40-minute swim at New Brighton Pool (the best-kept secret in Vancouver as far as I'm concerned), it was shrimp dumplings and melon juice for me. All in all, while I had a great time hanging with my guy and then later returning to snap pictures of cows, chicks, and other cuties in the agriculture buildings, it was a good reminder that you should eat before going to the PNE (the prices! the way all the batter tastes the same!) and maybe just indulge in one really awesome treat while you're there. 
Today I walked part of the beautiful Heights Trail with a friend, and then... actually stayed indoors once I got home mid-afternoon. My place is cool even on the hottest days, and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to make eggplant dip, eat it, and relax inside for a while. Even the most dedicated outdoorsians need a little home time I guess.

So, I always thought this dip was called baba ganoush until I read Smitten Kitchen this afternoon. And now I guess I should call it Moutabbal, except that no one will know what I'm talking about unless they're middle eastern. I'm more inclined to go with Catherine Newman's name: Smoky Minted Eggplant Dip.

Do I follow either of these recipes? Well, not exactly. I certainly started with Newman's recipe earlier this summer when I was house-sitting and suddenly found myself in charge of a number of eggplant plants (which is an awkward phrase. How should we say it? Egg-plants? Eggplantplants?). But unlike her, I'm not inclined to soak almonds and then blend them, all to avoid tahini, which I like anyway. Do I use as much tahini as Smitten Kitchen? Nope. I probably used 3 tablespoons, and in the past I've used less. Like Newman I use mint, but I also add a leaf or two of basil, because it's so plentiful and sun-warmed in my garden. In fact, the joy of a dip is that you can improvise! To an extent, anyway. Start with the basics, so you can add more if needed. Smokey is best, so if you can get those eggplants on the barbecue they'll be perfect. But an open flame (or the broiler at a pinch) is just fine.

It's rich, it's lemon-y, it's garlic-y... and for the first time I am eager for more eggplants, the smokey base for all this fresh summer deliciousness, and the perfect healthy dip when you need to duck back into your cool, slightly dark house to refresh yourself before the next end-of-summer adventure.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Ice, Ice Baby

I am NOT a Pinterest kind of girl.

But for some reason this summer, the idea of popsicles- in this kind of mould and no other- took hold, and I was powerless to resist.

I blame Smitten Kitchen, which has some fine popsicle recipes, and I blame the summer heat, of course, but most of all I blame my pretty-much-yearly obsession with getting control of my sugar cravings and losing some weight, dammit. It started a little late this year, but once I got going in early July, I was on fire. I sailed through my last week in Saskatoon, and came home full of resolve.

Shortly after I got back, my landlords left town for two weeks and I was suddenly in charge of their large and bountiful veggie garden. (And their blind old cat, but I couldn't eat him.) I harvested: basil and garlic became luscious pesto. Small tomatoes found their way into my pasta. Cucumbers were hastily stuck into jars with water and cider vinegar. I walked into the alley behind our house with a bowl and fought the bees for the best blackberries. Little eggplants were roasted on the barbecue and whizzed into the food processor to become the best baba ghanouch I've ever tasted. Ah, the food processor! I've never been one for kitchen gadgets, but having access to two all of a sudden made me realize what I'd been missing. Once I'd made the pesto and the baba ghanouche (and once I'd cleaned very thoroughly, to remove the garlic-y taste), I realized that I could use them to make... popsicles.

The popsicles of my youth were unadventurous things (sorry, Mom). You got 2 choices: apple juice or orange juice. The tips of the popsicles would be super-sweet, because that's where the heaviest, thickest part of the concentrated juice would settle. And the last part of the popsicle would be more watery, and would inevitably melt into its plastic holder, causing you to slurp noisily in order to get at the last bits.

Now, I've yet to buy this book, but just glancing through it- hell, just looking at the cover- makes me realize that there are whole new worlds to conquer when it comes to popsicles. And I will. Conquer them. Just as soon as I get over these darn watermelon ones I keep making. Which I may never do.

I discovered watermelon-mint-grapefruit-lime juice earlier this summer in Saskatoon. It was cold there, very cold, for most of my stay. As in, spend money you don't have on a sweatshirt, because you didn't bring any warm clothes kind of cold. As in, Vancouver-style rain as you tried to bike home kind of cold. But then for the last week or so it finally got HOT, and on a couple days I mortgaged my house sold my firstborn child spent a lot of money to buy a bottle of this mesmerizing juice from Thrive. This would make amazing popsicles, I found myself thinking as I gulped the red juice. And indeed it does. In fact, the watermelon-lime combination is so magical, I haven't even added the grapefruit or mint yet.

If possible, get a watermelon with seeds. Trust me, the big black seeds are a heck of a lot easier to remove than those annoying little white ones that are in the so-called "seedless" melons. I like the mini watermelons, as those are the perfect size for popsicle-making.

The great thing about melons is their high water content. You don't have to juice these puppies. In fact if you do, your popsicles will end up too watery.
The uneven colouring in this popsicle is because I tried
to strain out the seeds and pulp, leaving the juice too
watery. Yes, that's a kiwi in there! 
You do have to remove the seeds, though. Sorry. (Unless you're really not fussy? But I feel like this would make for an annoying popsicle.) This is one reason why I buy the little melons, because de-seeding a full-sized one would drive me nuts. I favour slicing the melon and then scraping the seeds out with a spoon. Don't sweat it if you miss a few. The food processor usually misses them too, and you can fish them out once the juice is pureed.
Basic. See how much redder this one is? Not overly watery like the last guy. 

Isn't she a beaut? 
If you're very lucky, your boyfriend will buy you a golden watermelon by mistake. You will discover that the flesh is even nicer than a regular watermelon, and makes the prettiest popsicles. Especially when you add chunks of kiwi and strawberry.
In keeping with my health kick, I don't add sugar to these. They don't need it. In fact, I find that a generous portion of lime juice adds a much-needed kick. I use over half a mini melon to make 10 popsicles, and the juice of one whole lime would not go amiss. The added fruit chunks make your popsicles look simply gorgeous, and add a sweet/tart chewiness that's delightful. 

I have grand plans to make Smitten Kitchen's Strawberry Black Pepper popsicles (minus the sugar), and I'll bet you that a mango-pineapple popsicle would be divine, especially with some added heat. (Maybe cayenne? Maybe chipotle? I can't wait to try.) I've seen some recipes for cucumber-lime or cucumber-strawberry pops that sound refreshing and delicious. Next time I come back from the grocery store I promise I'll have something in my bag other than a watermelon. Thanks to my sweetie, who loaned me his fabulous food processor, my popsicle-making days don't have to be over even though my landlords are back. And if I do get stuck in a melon-y rut until the seasons change and I no longer crave ice-cold refreshment? well, there's always next year. 

How good are these popsicles? Let's just say that since my 30-day no-dessert challenge came to an end, I have have had ice cream exactly twice, and both times it seemed overly sweet and far too sticky and milky, not to mention leaving me with pangs of regret and guilt. The simple, juice-packed beauty of these popsicles, on the other hand, is guilt-free. Eat as many as you want. Hell, eat all ten in one sitting if you like! Even if you do, you will simply have eaten the equivalent of part of a mini watermelon, plus some other fruits. And what could be better for you than that? 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Weekend of Decadence

I didn't mean to write again so soon, but damn! I've been eating out all weekend (and it was a long weekend, too). And everything was so good, I feel like I need to share it with you. Plus now I'm sick, and the cats have finished their morning battle and are curled up in strategic warm spots all over the house and we are being quiet and sleepy all together, so it seems like a good time to sit and write. I have taken over the living room because my roommates are away and my bedroom is full of boxes. I got so excited about my upcoming move that I'm practically all packed, but my new landlady called this morning and hinted that they miiiiight need a little more time because they're painting and reno-ing down there and... So I'm going to keep calm (I REALLY don't want to delay my move, because I'll be flying to Saskatoon mid-March, which means there's a good chance I'll have, like, a WEEK to settle in before I have to leave noWHYblerggnashteeth) and I'm going to tell you all about the amazing food I ate this weekend instead of getting sad. 

First up: Bows x Arrows on Fraser is incredible, and you should really drop everything and go there RIGHT NOW. J and I rolled out of bed on Saturday and heard the siren call of Breakfast Cooked By Somebody Else, and I took a chance on BxA because I'd seen a brunch menu in their window one night as I walked by. Don't be put off by their coffee shop aesthetic: they DO serve real food, and they ARE licensed. (Although, should you only want a coffee, their cappuccinos are very fine.) For breakfast, J had the Welsh Rarebit: basically cheese-on-toast. BxA serves theirs with roasted mushrooms and a fried egg on top, and it was rich and delicious. I chose the smoked salmon scramble: delicate pink house-smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, thin slices of that very seed-y, heavy rye bread, and a side salad that was bursting with lemony dressing. I'm not usually a fan of salads with breakfast, but this one was so good I scarfed the lot. (It helps that they use some kind of green- watercress? that's much more interesting than lettuce.) While we waited for breakfast to arrive, we also shared a small almond-flour cake with a generous dollop of chocolate icing, and it was chewy and dense. The rest of their pastries looked just as good- definitely a cut above the usual coffee-shop fare.  
In fact, everything was so good that the very next day I took my mother there for our semi-weekly brunch date. We missed the brunch cut-off by minutes, but decided to stick around and order Happy Hour snacks. (Here's how it works: BxA serves brunch from 8:30-11:30 weekdays; 8:30-3pm on weekends. After that, there are snack-y things, and then they do dinner Wednesday-Saturday as well.) 
While we waited, we drank Caesars. 
Someone else's Caesars in the background, while my mom wrestles with an olive, and the herring tartine sits patiently. 

I'm not a giant fan of tomato/clamato juice, so I'm not a connoisseur, but these were very good, made with house-spiced jalapeño tequila and house-made anchovy tomato juice;  garnished with pickled onions and fresh-grated horseradish. In fact, that's the secret to BxA's success: they seem to make as much of their food as possible in-house, so you're going to taste the difference. Then came the snacks: smokey, creamy potato-ham soup, smoked herring tartine, homemade pickled veggies, and a lovely little heirloom potato salad. Everything was bursting with flavour. 
Look at those cute purple potatoes!

Potato soup with ham.

Oh look, there's a record with a naked Prince on the cover, nestled by the beer taps! 

We left feeling very satisfied, but not in that overstuffed, uncomfortable way, and to top it all off? The total for everything: four snack orders, 2 Caesars, and a glass of beer for me, was just over 40 dollars.
Bows x Arrows is at 4194 Fraser St @ 26th

Back to Saturday, where after brunch, the decadence was just beginning. Big Rock Brewery was having an open house, so J & I headed straight there (hey, at least we walked). In an impossibly generous bit of marketing, Big Rock had decided to open their doors from 12-5; giving away 2 beer tickets to each customer, as well as a free growler (with a gift certificate for a free fill), free canapés, and a brewery tour! Although we were still stuffed from brunch, we enjoyed our porter (a full pint for free!), and I also had a (free) pint of their Rock Creek cider, since I'm not much of a beer drinker. The tour was informative and fun, with a free sample of their Midnight Rhapsody porter and a chance to meet the brewmaster at the end of it. 
My sweetheart, being all cute and handsome. 

And as we left, the hostess urged us to take not one, but two growlers each! They were too busy to fill them up then (hence the gift cards), but I'll definitely be back to make use of them soon. It's about time as a Vancouverite that I learn to obsess about beers. 
Big Rock Brewery & Taphouse is at 310 W 4th Ave.

Finally... yesterday. I was hired to do a few hours of session work on someone's album, which is pretty much my favourite way to spend a day. Since the studio is in east Van and it was a gorgeous morning, I decided to walk there, but changed my mind as I saw the #22 bus approaching. My reasoning? If I jumped on the bus, I could probably fit in breakfast at Yolk's before my session began. Unfortunately I'd totally forgotten that it was Family Day, and even though it wasn't yet 9am, the lineup was already out the door. Oh well. I walked north and east, remembering that Scandilicious Waffle House was nearby and on the way. Ha- no lineups there! Just a cosy table in the corner, counter service, and the best waffle I have EVER had. No joke. I ordered the Valhalla, which came with maple-bacon jam, crunchy bacon pieces, and a generous slice of back bacon. Amazing. 
The Valhalla steals my heart by being so... bacon-y. 

I also had a cappuccino. Before I left, I had to try one of their double-chocolate cookies, which tasted as incredible as it looked: almost black; chewy and sweet and melt-in-your-mouth. The rest of the baked goods looked just as good, so it was with some disappointment that I realized I didn't have to do another recording session later in the week, as we got through all the songs that needed a backup singer. Good thing I'm moving closer to Scandilicious... whenever I do move. Sigh.
Scandilicious is at 25 Victoria Drive

Lest you think that my life is one big date with my plate, l must tell you that 
a) it's not 
b) I've just started up a bit of a support group for me and some friends who want to start eating better and getting healthy. My patterns are fairly predictable (and common): Get healthy in the summer: cavort and run and bike and play outside and eat all the good stuff, and then pack on the pounds each winter as I eat starches to stave off the wet, grey, cold weather and indulge my sweet tooth far too often. It's a pattern I'd love to break- I'm realistic enough to know that I'll never be perfect, but I'm hoping this'll be a step in the right direction. 
(Totally going back to Scandilicious for that lemon krinkle cookie though. Just sayin'.)

Thursday, 9 February 2017

You Eat Where You Are.

Living in Mount Pleasant is great for so many reasons. MP is one of those 'hoods that, if you were a tourist from another country, let's say, you might not make it to, because it's not flashy like downtown, or ritzy like West Van, or famously alternative, like Commercial Drive. But it's definitely got a thing going. And one of the things that give it a thing, so to speak, is the food. 
I'm doubly lucky, because I also work in Mount Pleasant, so my commute is as, well.. pleasant as my neighbourhood. I seldom even have to get on a bus, unless I'm running late. And when I'm on a break, or after a long day of teaching music, or when I'm just mooching around the neighbourhood on a day off, I know the 'hood always has my back when it comes to places to eat.

Which is why moving away is a mixed blessing.

It's time to have my own place, at long last. I like to think of myself as an independent woman, since I left home at 18, but the truth is, very few of my adult years have been spent living alone. There was a mostly blissful 5 years in a basement suite off Main Street (also in Mount Pleasant, come to think of it). A year or two in my university days in a cute little Kitsilano bachelor suite, for which I think I paid a whopping $375 (it was a long time ago). Three months in a wonderful sublet just before I moved to my current location. But mostly it's been sharing: with roommates, friends, and even, for the last 3 years, family. 
So I've found the perfect place, and I love the neighbourhood: it's in east van (gotta be east van!), it's right off Commercial Drive (so much good food!), it's got a gas stove (lots of meals at home!)... But I'll truly miss my Mount Pleasant haunts, so I'm extra glad that I'll still have to come here all the time for work. Here are some of the places I know I'll keep coming back to: 

I'd been eyeing this cute little restaurant for a while, but it took a really snowy Saturday to propel me through its doors at last. I walked all the way from my house to the farmers market in some very odd (for Vancouver) weather... and all the way back, too. When I was almost home, hunger- and the need for warmth- hit hard. I wanted someone to coddle me just a bit. Well, I picked the perfect spot, because Oka-San has comfort food. It didn't take me long to choose the Carbonara Udon to warm me up from the inside out. If the idea of Japanese-Italian food strikes you as odd you're probably not alone, but it was delicious. Cream sauce, generous hammy pieces, and a sprinkling of seaweed garnish over udon noodles, with a nice green salad besides. I'm definitely going back to try the Spam Musibi as well... and that's the cool thing about Oka-San: there's definitely a Hawaiian vibe (think Poke bowls and the aforementioned Spam) as well as the Japanese food at play here. 
Oka-San is at 3578 Fraser Street

Carp has been my go-to lunch spot when I'm working ever since I discovered one of my colleagues eating one of their rice bowls. The bright red salmon, crispy cucumber and smooth avocado looked so pretty! And they taste even better. Yes, they have sushi as well, but I'm a sucker for the rice bowls, especially since you can have a mini one for a mere $6. A mini will satisfy anyone looking for a light lunch; a full-sized one is great for those HUNGRY days. There's tuna, salmon and a few other options as well. I still love the spicy salmon bowl best (it's not very spicy), but I've loved everything I've had at Carp. The best thing is that their food always makes me feel great, since it's protein-rich and not greasy. Only one slight caution: they are not currently debit card-friendly, so bring cash or credit. 
Carp is at 2516 Prince Edward Street

Speaking of greasy... I have to give a shout-out to PEACEFUL RESTAURANT, which is just too damn close to my workplace to be safe for my waistline. I have loved northern Chinese food ever since I discover Shaolin Noodle House years ago, and Peaceful does it even better. Highlights include the green onion pancakes, which always burn my mouth because I can't wait for them to cool; the wonderfully-named Peaceful Beef Roll (beef rolled in flatbread with Hoisin sauce), and the Dan Dan noodles. But recently I discovered something even better there. It was another snowy day, and classes at the music school were cancelled, allowing me to leave four hours early! Another comfort-food day for sure... so I walked a few blocks to Peaceful. But what to have? I needed something warm and soothing as the day was dark and snowy. Not too much spice, not too much grease... I decided to try the Xi'an White Lamb Stew. "It's traditional Chinese dish," warned my waitress sternly as she took my order. "No noodles!" "That's okay," I said brightly, and quailed as I waited for my order to arrive. Would I not like it? Would it be filled with something that my Western pallet would find unpleasant? 
When the lamb stew came, the only problem was how to cool it fast enough to get it in my mouth. A light broth, packed with little chunks of lamb, cabbage, wood ear mushrooms (my favourite!), and many small pieces of flatbread, all flavoured with large sprigs of cilantro. It was a large bowl, and I ate the whole thing. 
Peaceful Restaurant is at 43 east 5th, among other locations

There are many more places I love to go in Mount Pleasant, and I hope to write about them in the future, after I cover some of the best nibbles on Commercial Drive. Stay hungry, everybody! 


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Catching up.

A perfect pear from Fort Langley, back in those golden late-summer days. Sigh. 

I'm back! And of course I've been eating non-stop for months and I haven't been telling you about it, which is mean of me.

But so much has been happening. I came back from the prairies and enjoyed the rest of my summer; lived in Fort Langley for a while and cycled and ran like crazy; then I started teaching music again at one school, and also at another school for the first time. Teaching preschool music, which is hard. But very fun, when it works. I got hugged a lot today, for instance. And a mom told me that her daughter has been making images of me out of play dough all week. ("Does she stick pins in them?" I asked her.) I am taking a psychology class at university, so that one day I can pursue my dream of becoming a music therapist. I am playing in bands and writing music and learning to play the bass and the ukulele, and and andandand...

[Oh yeah, and an orange-faced racist, sexist reality-show clown got elected president in the states. It's enough to make anyone eat the pain away.]

"You are the busiest lazy person I know," exclaimed my boyfriend the other day. "Lazy" is really my term for it, since I would usually rather be curled up on the couch drinking red wine and writing or reading than anything else. But somehow this has ended up being a lie, as I race around being an early childhood music teacher and a student and a musician, and so many things. And I realize again that although I claim to be lazy, in fact I am anything but.

One thing I am still not though, is much of a cook. Oh I try. But although I love food, I don't always love making it. Partly because it's mostly for one, except when my boyfriend's around. And partly because my work schedule is weird and so I find myself having cooking binges once every couple of weeks and then having a million frozen breakfast burritos or soups or spaghetti-sauce-frozen-in-a-bag at my fingertips, which is amazing. But a lot of the time I'll still be going out for lunch or dinner (or breakfast, let's be honest).

So, with that in mind, I figured I should just pluck a few names out of the air for you, since it's been so long. After all, if they've stuck in my head with all this other stuff going on then they're probably worth writing about, one way or another. You'll find that this list has a very east van bias, since that's my place of residence and work. No apologies. Here goes...


Fable Diner
Some of us mourn the loss of Reno's (at the corner of Broadway and Main); not because their breakfasts were outstanding (they really weren't), but because they were dirt cheap and still served cafeteria-style, meaning you grabbed a tray, placed your order and paid at the till, and then got served pretty damn fast with an edible meal that wouldn't bust your budget. Old people on tiny fixed incomes loved it. Well, I don't imagine they're still flocking since Fable opened up, but the quality of the food has vastly improved. On one hand it's the epitome of hipster gentrification; on the other hand: thick, delicious bacon! Avocado toast with smoked salmon, arugula, and poached eggs! Huevos Rancheros! It's not perfect, (the coffee is boring, for example), but the brekkie selection is on point. Bonus points for being 2 blocks from where I work, for those mornings where my sweetie and I want to grab a bite before I have to run to the ol' day job.

More bonus points for being a mere 6 blocks from my sweetie's house. Also, great big kudos for the breakfast salad I almost always order: ALAN’S BREAKFAST $12 Romaine, purple cabbage, cilantro, cheese, pinto beans, balsamic vinaigrette, guacamole, and apple salsa, topped with two fried free-range eggs. Served with two fresh, hand-made corn tortillas.
Add a side of roasted yams and potatoes $2.50
[Don't order the yams/potatoes though. They're not worth it.] 
When I'm not down with the health program, I order the Lemmy, which is basically an orgy of cheese, poblano pepper, and- who the fuck cares? There's cheese. That's all you need to know. 


Blacksmith Bakery, Fort Langley
It seems so long ago that I was wearing next to nothing in the summer heat, cycling furiously from the converted barn I was house-sitting to the centre of tiny Fort Langley to swim in the muddy waters of the Fraser River off Braw Island Regional Park and work up an appetite for the incredible food at Blacksmith. But by my calculations it was only 3 months ago. Such innocent, happy times! 
Seriously, you should run (drive, fly), not walk, to this bakery; not only because Fort Langley will make you feel happy, but because Blacksmith's is the bomb. Sandwiches made with lemon-y guacamole and fresh, chewy bread. Tasty cappuccinos. And the desserts... Suffice it to say that I broke all my healthy summer vows on my birthday so I could eat their chocolate Guinness cake. And I regret nothing!  Their baked goods taste homemade in the best way, which is to say they taste buttery and rich and unpretentious and real. I'd walk back there from east van for their food. It's that good. 

Bao Down
And now for something completely different. Healthy, it's not. Delicious? Yup. Steamed bao (buns) stuffed to the gills with meats, veggies and sauces. Eat with fries, of course. They have Poke Bowls, for those who do want to be healthier. 

Honestly, it's going to be either sushi or pizza most of the time. The pizza's gonna be thin-slice Neapolitan style, because that's what I love. If I happen to be downtown, alway Nicli Antica. In my 'hood? Barbarella's. The service is well-meaning but vague; the cocktails are tasty and the pizza's yummy. 'nuff said. 
Sushi? Damn, there's a lot of mediocre stuff around here. Kishimoto is doing it better. Damn them for not being open for lunch, but I had takeout with my roomies a while ago and it rocked. Tiny Naruto Sushi on Commercial at 12th has a kickass Spicy Tuna Roll. 
Sometimes I'll leave the music puppy-mill (kidding) at 8:30, and want to be instantly stuffed full of carbs. What can I say? Teaching kids can be bloody hard. When I want comfort food I head right to Peaceful Noodle at 5th and Main for some Peaceful Beef Roll or Spicy Noodle. (The spicy noodles do NOT leave your insides feeling peaceful, FYI, TMI. But it's a small price to pay.) 

Besides my go-to, Matchstick, I have to give mad props to East Van Roasters for combining good coffee with incredible chocolate in a tiny, gorgeous space right down on Carrall Street. I walk in there  and instantly I wish that more places in Vancouver looked and felt like this. I've been cutting back on the coffee recently, partly because I've had some very disappointing ones so I felt that I should just avoid it in general unless I knew it was going to be exceptional, but I had the best mocha EVER at EVR. In fact, it was so good I could't finish it, because it was thick and rich like drinking chocolate, and I'd foolishly ordered one of their salted chocolate chip cookies as well. In the chocolate department, I also have to sheepishly admit  that I love Waves (yup, it's a chain- shoot me now) for using real chocolate chips in their hot chocolates and mochas, and giving you a choice between white, milk, and dark.  (As if there's a choice. Choose dark, ya wusses.) I've already had 2 of their seasonal candy cane-topped mochas and I see no reason to stop until a) Christmas comes or b) I get sick of candy canes and chocolate (never happen). 

There's a lot to be scared of. Winter is coming. It's getting dark so early. Did I mention that Donald WTF Trump is taking over the White House? We light candles against the dark; we bundle up, even on the balmy west coast; we eat warm and comforting foods to swell our bellies against the dangers and the scarcities. It's not enough, it's never enough, but we try. You'll find me here from time to time as the days get shorter, eating and blogging faithfully about it. See you around. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Fox On The Run

I hit the ground running as soon as my plane landed in Saskatoon last Friday. A quick cab ride straight to rehearsal and boom! I'd missed over 2 days of rehearsals due to my Vancouver teaching job, so I had some catching- up to do. This show is a play-through, meaning that there is music in almost every moment of the play. Outdoor puppet theatre is hard, sweaty work, and tremendous fun. Doing a show based on Cree legends with a partially Cree cast means that we've done some interesting things as a cast, including smudging, feasting, and going to a sweat lodge (amazing, spooky, spiritual, and very, very, very hot). We actually met with a nutritionist yesterday, who gave us all advice on staying healthy and hydrated once we actually start performing outdoors in the sun and heat (after that sweat lodge it should be no big deal). It's one of the many supportive things this company has done for us, and I think it's going to be a wonderful 6 weeks, as long as I can sort out the fragile balancing act between staying hydrated and not having to pee for the entire length of every single show.
Where your mountains at, South Saskatchewan? 
Because we are rehearsing at a synagogue, we have Saturdays off, a thing that is almost unheard-of in live theatre. So while I had to jump straight in to work last Friday I was then rewarded with an instant day off. First things first: I managed to find a bicycle so I could commute between home and work. The little used 6-speed folding (!) Schwinn that I found for a dirt-cheap price has started several conversations with total strangers so far. I've affectionately nicknamed it the Blue Snail, because its small wheels make my rides a bit slower than I'm used to. The selling feature for me was its cute little basket, which makes it possible to transport lunches, scripts and groceries without having to carry stuff on my back- essential in this prairie heat.

One thing I wanted to make sure of was sticking to my no-flour, no-dessert eating plan while I was here; and I was nervous, because Saskatchewan is a land of bakers (is it me, or is this province especially obsessed with Long John-type donuts?). Surprisingly, my salvation came from the very place I feared most: the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Browsing around there last Saturday I noticed the usual sweet and sticky baking stalls... but also a company called Fit Fuel In A Jar. Salads to go? All nicely packed into 750ml Mason jars? Requiring no prep or cooking on my part? SOLD. I bought just 4, since I wasn't totally convinced I'd like them... and ended up devouring them for my lunches because they are straight-up delicious.

Here's the skinny: each jar costs 11 dollars. And yes, that's a bit pricey. But honestly, if I bought all the stuff I'd need to make them, I wouldn't spend much less than that, and the convenience of having healthy meals all packed and ready to go each day is worth the extra cost. You can order online, and either have them delivered (in the Saskatoon area) or pick them up from the farmers market on Saturdays. Because they're large and include protein, I find them to be a perfect lunch (or dinner): they're fresh, packed with flavour, and yet light enough on these hot days to keep me energized for the afternoon half of rehearsals. Here are some of the meals I've tried:

  • ginger chicken & soba noodles
  • sundried tomato & lentil salad
  • chicken, mandarin & cranberry salad
  • thai steak salad
This week I ordered 10 salads (the ones above, plus a peanut shrimp salad) and picked them up this morning. They just fit in the back of the Blue Snail. I rode gingerly home - Saskatoon streets have a LOT of potholes- with 8 of them in the back and 2 more swinging from my handlebars. (It reminded me of one of my beloved Dorothy Sayers novels, where Lord Peter Wimsey is fretting over the transport of some wine of rare vintage and Bunter reassures him: "The damage is at present negligible, my lord.")
Big salads, little bike. 

I'm already scheming to reproduce these once I return to Vancouver. Does anyone have a business like this in YVR? If you know of one, get at me, because I can't find one. I'm almost tempted to start my own meal-in-a-jar company...

Of course, it's not all healthy eating, all the time. A girl needs her breakfast fix once in a while (it's been mostly granola, yogurt and fruit during the week). 
Something I noticed working here last year is that breakfasts are damn expensive in this town. Even the so-called diners and greasy spoons want to charge you something like 11 bucks for a basic 2-egg-bacon job that you'd pay less than 8 dollars for in Vancouver. What gives, Saskatoon? 

I figured that since I was gonna get fleeced any which way, I might as well get something a little more interesting. After some research on Google, I decided to check out The Hollows, which is in trendy Riversdale, pretty close to where I'm staying. 
You would be forgiven for thinking that The Hollows is actually a run-down Chinese restaurant called Golden Dragon, since that is what the signs on the building (not to mention the impressive neon dragon) would have you believe. They seem to have taken it over lock, stock and barrel, which is part of its Hipster-ish appeal. The menu embraces local ingredients, and a mix of old and modern cooking techniques. Brunch (served weekends) varies from the delicious-sounding Trout Benedict to Pear & Lavender Oatmeal (I want to try that next time) to Breakfast Poutine (which 2 people raved about independently when I mentioned that I was going to The Hollows), to my choice, which was called, prosaically, Rice & Beans. I wouldn't say it was outstanding; it was okay, and more to the point it contained neither potatoes nor bread and so it was okay for me to eat. Far more entertaining than my breakfast was the unexpected company of 2 people from Tourism Saskatchewan, who were filming a segment in The Hollows, and wanted to share my table as it head the best light in the place. We ended up having a nice chat, and they told me about some places I should check out while I was here. My table companions wanted to film their actress drinking a cocktail, so at 11am I found myself sipping a Gin Fizz while the woman across from me had a Rhubarb Margarita. The Fizz was an interesting mix of fizzy and creamy, and both drinks were very attractive. Overall, I'd splurge on The Hollows once or twice more during this contract, if only to try more cocktails and maybe their dinner menu. 

This is Fenster. Fenster ate plastic last week and it got stuck in his intestine.
Now he has a cone head and a big incision in his tummy.

It's already 6pm, and so my day off is nearly done- so soon! I spent a rainy afternoon playing salsa music on Spotify and dancing around the kitchen watched by a sceptical cat, whilst cooking up sausages (shout out to Benlock Farms, which sells amazing Angus beef products). 

Another intense week awaits. At least I know that my little area of the fridge is stuffed with an assortment of tasty meals-in-a-jar, ready to carry me through the next 6 days. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

No-Mayo Apple Slaw Perfection

Well, that last post got a little heavy, didn't it? Food addiction? Who wants to read about that on a food blog, for heaven's sake? Judging by the mostly awkward silence on my Facebook feed, most of my friends didn't really know what to say either. But I swear, whatever your predilections, you are going to want this apple slaw as soon as a heat wave hits your part of the world. 

Vancouver is stinkin' hot right now, and I know all I want to eat is fruit, meat, and veggies. Which is basically what I should be eating, so that's a win. This recipe combines two of these things and pairs really well with meat. Scoop a big spoonful of this slaw onto your plate, barbecue up some meat or fish (who wants to turn the stove on when it's this hot?) and add a corn on the cob. Voila: dinner! 

The inspiration for this slaw originally came from Bandida's Taqueria, which serves it with some of their entrees, but other than noticing that it had apples and cilantro in it and was crunchy and refreshing, I didn't really take much note of the ingredients. I knew I wanted to try making it though, so I started to Google "apple slaw no mayo". The dressing is taken right from this recipe, except I halved the amount of honey. I tinkered with the veggies, but my claim to brilliance has to be adding mint leaves and subtracting cilantro. Cilantro is a very... polarizing herb. I happen to love it, but I know that many of my friends do not. Plus there's just something about apple and mint together. It's the perfect summery combination. I recently brought it to a BBQ potluck and everyone cooed over it. The cool lime-y, vinegar-y apple-y crunch of this slaw will taste good and you'll feel less guilty about basically living on barbecue meats during the heat wave. As if there was anything to feel guilty about. 

First, pick your base veggies. You can grate or chop red cabbage, green cabbage, or, if you're a lazy person like me, buy a bag of this mix. It has cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale among other things, and it's pre-washed and everything. Maybe pick out large chunks or slightly off-putting brown bits.

Grate some carrots and chop some mint leaves. You could matchstick the carrots, but why? 

Next, make the dressing. It's so easy!
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
a dash of cayenne powder
salt and pepper to taste

Add at least one crisp, sweet apple. (Add more of everything if you're feeding a large party. And double the dressing.) You want to add the apple right before you add the dressing, otherwise it will brown very quickly. That's why I make the dressing first. I actually do matchstick chop the apple, but my knife skillz aren't great, so they're kind of chunky matchsticks. 

Oh, and as you're serving the slaw, you could sprinkle some nuts or seeds on top for added crunch. I was going to add shelled pumpkin seeds, but what I came up with was walnut pieces, and they were so great I haven't deviated from this since.