Monday, 21 September 2015

Nature Box: Snacks In The Mail!

So, my brother has a wee bit of an internet shopping addiction fetish habit. It is a rare day that goes by without some tempting box arriving in the mail for him, usually with the word Amazon emblazoned on it somewhere. As the stay-at-home member of the household, the one who usually gets to take in the mail, this is frustrating in the extreme. Where is MY box? Where are MY treats?

Today was like Christmas for me: not only did a long-awaited cheque finally show up for me, but my first box of snacks from Nature Box also showed up! I'd read about this company from Amalah, a mom-blogger who regularly does sponsored posts. She's mentioned Nature Box a few times (as well as Blue Apron, which I wish would deliver in Canada but does not yet). Nature Box does deliver to Canada. And like the sleazy guy on the corner who's offering you your first hit of something addictive says: first one's free, kid. That's right, you can order your first snack box for free.

So natch, I was on it. I signed up on Nature Box's website. I selected five snacks. I waited, mostly patiently. Just over a week ago they emailed me to let me know that my box was en route from New York. And today it arrived! Excitedly, I placed the box on the kitchen table. And immediately, this happened:
"Hmm, what this?"
"Comfy AND crackly. I like."

The kitties in this house are obsessed with boxes. When I had finally removed the cat, my snacks sat waiting for me in all their glory.
Salted Caramel Pretzel Pops, South Pacific Plantains, Sriracha Cashews, Cinnamon Spiced Almonds and Sriracha Cashew Crunch (I like Sriracha, okay?). 

Here's the deal: you can sign up easily on Nature Box's website. Once you're signed in, you can select whether you want 3 or 5 snacks, and how often you want them to come. I chose once a month, but we'll see...  My subsequent boxes will cost 24.95 Canadian. The snacks don't come in huge bags, so it will be easy to finish them quickly. However, I like the idea of having healthy(ish) snacks in the house and not spending that money on impulse buys at the grocery store. You can build a flavour profile online, so Nature Box will know whether you like sweet, savoury, chewy, crunchy, or a mix of things. You can set up a virtual "Pantry" and they'll make up your next box from the top 5 (or 3, if that's your order size) items on the list.

But enough of that. What do the snacks taste like? I put together a little sample bowl of the 5 products I'd ordered: 

Cinnamon Spice Almonds: I wouldn't say they're spicy. Slightly sweet though, and with a good dusting of cinnamon. Pleasant, but not earth-shattering.
Sriracha Cashew Crunch: A mix of puffed corn, rice and cashews. Yeah! Nice sweet/spicy kick to these guys, and yes, they're definitely crunchy. These are good.
Sriracha Roasted Cashews: A bit mellower than their crunchy friends. Also very tasty, with that sweet/spicy buzz which is what I love about Sriracha.
South Pacific Plantains: I love plantain chips, so these were a no-brainer for me. Salty and mild on their own, they'd also be fantastic with any kind of dip.
Salted Caramel Pretzel Pops: Ah the trendiness of salted caramel anything. Like most pretzels, they're heavy on crunch, but light on substance. These were okay, but I wouldn't get them again. 

I just had more of the Sriracha Cashew Crunch, and it certainly cleared out the sinuses! 
In summary, I'd say the snacks are pretty yummy, and getting them delivered is a fun gimmick, although I think this service would make more sense in a rural setting where healthy snacks are maybe harder to come by.  I'll make up my mind after next month's delivery. For now I'm going to keep the boxes coming, and I can cancel at any time if I get tired of getting my snacks delivered. Now, at least once a month, there'll be a box waiting at the mailbox for me, instead of my brother. And it will be filled with tasty goodness. 

Warning: Cats may show increased interest in life with the arrival of your Nature Box. 

*This post was not sponsored in any way by Nature Box. Just so's ya know. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

In Praise of Your Local Pub

What a day. 

I didn't mean to write another entry so soon, but man, I could NOT cook at home tonight. Check it out: this morning I braved crazy winds for a late-season ocean swim. It happened to be incredibly warm and sunny yesterday, so my guy suggested we start today with an invigorating dip in the ocean. 
Invigorating, ha! A sandstorm swirled into our eyes as we struggled towards the water. A beautiful wooden sailing boat had grounded itself right up on the beach, an escapee from its moorings. "Are we gonna do this?" asked Jay, as we parked our bikes at the dog beach. "Fuck yeah," I growled, and shucked my shorts and tank top. Into the waves we went, watched by a bunch of incredulous dogs and their owners. Our hearts skipped a few beats, but the salt water scoured us clean. We hugged each other, as much for warmth as for joy, and beat a hasty retreat to Siegel's for toasted bagels, accompanied by enormous Americanos from Bean Around The World. 

Siegel's Bagels always makes me think of my earliest days away from home, when I moved out at 18 and went to live in Kitsilano. It's still open 24 hours, and their bagels are still chewy and delicious; the dense, small Montreal-style bagels that taste best toasted. I remember a time when I went illegally midnight skinny-dipping at the crazy retro apartment next door, and then had a wonderful warm bagel from Siegel's... But I digress. 

Skin still salty from my dip, I had to cycle like a demon to make an accordion concert at Spartacus Books... Which I would have done well to look up before I left Kits, as they've moved. More demonic cycling brought me to their new location, and my students did me proud. 

But after all that biking, I couldn't face the thought of cooking anything, and I needed a drink. So I biked up to my almost-local, the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub.
Obligatory stock photo of the pub. I didn't take any pictures today. Sorry.

Why do I like this place? 

  1. Because your neighbourhood pub needs to feel like a comfy slipper, somewhere you could almost go to in your pyjamas, and Cedar Cottage feels like that. Also: 
  2. Big (gas) fireplace, if you can score a couch seat in front of it. 
  3. It's below street level, which is a nice quirk. You enter just off Kingsway, go down some stairs, and there you are. 
  4. It's the kind of place you can go to by yourself if you're a chick, and you probably won't get hassled. 
  5. They still have a cigarette machine. Not that I'll use it, but I like that it's there. 
  6. The food and drink are satisfying. Nothing fancy, just filling and affordable. I had the perogies, loaded with sausage, bacon and onions, and a sleeve of Lonetree Cider. I almost always have the perogies. Yum.
  7. It hasn't been renovated into hipster coolness yet. Long may it not be. You'll find a mix of folks, all of them decidedly uncool, just like you. And yeah, the decor is a bit grubby understated, but that's what keeps it unpretentious in there. 
Okay, I really hate the fact that there are around 20 TVs in there. (No, I'm not exaggerating. I counted at least 18.) But that's because I couldn't give a rat's ass about sports. If you do, you're gonna love it here. 

By my estimate, I was home within 10 minutes of leaving Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub. That makes it officially my new local bar. Next time I have a crazy-epic-swimming-biking-accordion-adventure kind of a day, I'll see you there. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

From greasy spoon breakfast to baked kale, with an ice cream stop along the way.

First of all, can I just say that I got a new phone? Well, new to me; my sweetie had an extra one that had belonged to a friend, and he passed it on to me, knowing that I've been frustrated by my old phone's terrible camera. I took myself down to International Village Mall today to get a sleeve for it, and found myself walking through the aisles at Yokoyaya, because I find it so charming. I know I should be horrified by all the over-packaging, and I am, but...

There is something so charming about it, something that our western dollar stores lack entirely. Everything in Yokoyaya is- and I don't mean to sound patronizing here but I probably do - adorable. I guess it's the charm of the exotic, but also the beautiful colours and orderliness. When my life feels chaotic, I walk through Yokoyaya and think If only I had stacks of plastic lunch boxes, packages of sweet chopsticks and a box of perfect, tiny hairpins, my life would be so much better. 

But before my downtown excursion, there was Bon's Off Broadway. 

Look at this place! It's totally badass. Bon's has a grungy appeal. The walls are graffiti'd. You help yourself to coffee after the first serving. The place is packed- why? Because the basic breakfast is still $2.95, for god's sake! Jay and I both went for it. The portions were generous- no skimping here. 
My bacon was cooked just the way I like it and my potatoes were delicious, and had obviously been made from scratch rather than been poured out of a McCain's bag. Eggs and rye toast rounded out the plate. 

Jay had less-than-fond memories of Bon's but after this morning's feast he had to admit that it was better than he'd remembered. Look at this face- I think this man is enjoying his breakfast, don't you? Plus they basted his eggs, which many places don't (or won't) do. 
I'd definitely recommend Bon's over our other cheapo breakfast haunt, Reno's. The food is better and you can't beat the price! 

On my way home from downtown, I decided to go back to another place that Jay and I had checked out recently: Rooster's Ice Cream Bar, which is located dangerously close to where I live, on east Broadway. Apparently they had to open quite late in the summer, due to the fact that they had to do a lot of work on the property before they opened. Hopefully we'll have a warm autumn, so that they have a chance to make some good money before the cold and rain set in. 
The food blogger over at Nosh & Nibble gave these guys a good, comprehensive review last month, but I will add my two cents here: these guys make yummy ice cream! Definitely more down-to-earth and less hipster-precious than Earnest Ice Cream, this is home-made ice cream, east van style. 
Flavours on Parade.
On my first visit I had the coffee-toffee-chocolate crunch. The owner anxiously asked if the coffee flavour was strong enough, and I assured her that it was. It tasted like a lovely, milky cafe au lait. However, I was a little disappointed in the lack of crunch going on. I'm someone who likes good, thick chunks of stuff in my ice cream, and these guys seem to be a little more subtle. However, they make up for it with flavour: not only was my coffee ice cream delicious, but Jay had a real winner: a daring combination of avocado, honey, and vodka! It was nothing short of amazing. Bonus: he liked mine better, so we traded cones when we were about 2/3rds through. I love that man.
Today I had the raspberry cheese cake. Again, I found the cheesecake bits to be too small for me to really get the texture, but the raspberry flavour was wonderful. Looks as though these guys have some new additions to the menu coming this fall, so they'll certainly keep me coming back.

Of course, I can't eat like this all the time. People ask me: "how can you eat all this rich, delicious food and still keep your amazing figure?" (Actually, no one says that at all. Although I do eat out too much, I eat healthy meals at home a lot. And because I enjoy food, my figure certainly isn't without its extra curves.) 
But I digress. I was pretty self-indulgent today, so my evening meal was nothing more than a big bowl of home-made kale chips. I cannot believe how much companies charge for bags of these treats, so I never buy them. You can make them at home in under 15 minutes. Jay had bought me a big bunch of kale from the Kitsilano farmers market, so I washed it, ripped it up, patted it dry, and threw it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 325, tossed in a little olive oil, parmesan cheese, and salt. Delicious. Although I'd better not smile at anyone tonight; my teeth are probably covered in flecks of un-sexy green. 

Bon's Off Broadway is located at 2451 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver. 
Rooster's Ice Cream Bar is located at 1039 East Broadway 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Jackalope: Birthday Breakfast, the Hipster Herd Mentality, and Sizzling Skillets.

The end of August is a wistful time to have a birthday. You might get sunshine and heat. But even if you do, the leaves are changing and falling, there is a nip to the air as the sun sets, and the clouds are just as likely to start rolling in and reminding you that the seasons are changing.
Lucky me! Last Saturday was my birthday, but it will be remembered by Vancouverites not for being the happy day of my birth, but because there was an epic windstorm that left many thousands without power, and uprooted trees and flung branches far and wide. I tell you, it's been hard to believe that last Wednesday I was basking in the sun at the PNE. Even harder to believe that the PNE is still on. Feels like a lifetime ago.
Anyway, before the winds really ramped up on that fateful Saturday, my mom took me out for a birthday breakfast. Our first stop was Yolks, but I'd dragged my feet, as I'd forgotten it was the weekend. By the time we got there the lineup was out the door. Now, much as I love Yolks, I wasn't going to wait in any damn line, not on my birthday! So we did what any self-respecting people of gently English extraction do: we slunk away and tried to think of another place to eat that wouldn't be packed to the gills.
As we were in east van anyway, a thought struck me: why not try Jackalope? I'd looked them up recently and noticed that they had a brunch-on-weekends menu. We weren't far away... We hopped in the car and headed east to take a look.
As I suspected, the lineup across the street at Red Wagon was ridiculous, while Jackalope was warm, welcoming, and blessedly empty, considering the wind and threatening skies outside.
An aside here- In a city as large and as blessed with amazing restaurants as we are, it absolutely boggles my mind that people will line up for breakfast, or any other meal for that matter. But especially breakfast! Picture this: it's the weekend, perhaps it's your only day off after a tough work week. You want everything to go your way. You've slept in, you've stretched lazily, and now it's mid day and you're in serious need of sustenance. So you go to the same trendy place as every other hipster in the freakin' city and stand in line for an hour? What the actual fuck? There are so many places to eat in Vancouver! And while some places, like Yolks, put out a breakfast so seriously good that I would-almost-stand in line for them, most of them are mediocre at best. Okay, rant over. It works to my advantage anyway, because I will always look for the place that doesn't have a lineup, and now that I have a boyfriend who is practically allergic to waiting in line (and adores breakfast), this isn't about to change.
So, Jackalope. Serious hipster vibe: Tom Waits on the system, deer heads and the mythical Jackalope itself peering down from various walls, beefy wooden tables. (They call themselves a Dive Bar on their website. Guys, if you call yourself a dive, you're not one. Hell, if you have a damn website, you're not a dive bar.) But for all that it's trying a little hard, it's a charming place, and one that I'd like to hang out in some stormy winter night, drinking too many ridiculously delicious cocktails and boring someone with my life story.
Hey look, it's a Jackalope! 
In fact, I did hang out in Jackalope one night last year, with an ex-flame, and indeed drank at least one wonderful cocktail. Unfortunately, the evening- which had begun pleasantly enough- took a left turn into Awkwardsville when I mentioned that I was seeing someone new, and soon I had to scramble off to band practice, as both of us had had very different ideas of where the evening was going.
Now I was back, and determined to try a meal, because I remembered being sorely tempted last time I'd been there.
Jackalope loves their skillets, and many of their meals- especially of the brunch variety- nestle in mini skillets brought to your table resting on a wooden board. Watch your flailing limbs: these things are HOT! After some deliberation I ordered the Skillet Hash, with a side of bacon, and Mom ordered the Huevos Rancheros. Service was friendly, fast and attentive, and soon we were munching happily on our brunch. No lineups for us!
Jackalope's brunch menu.
My skillet hash was, in a word, fantastic, with some nice touches that elevated it above the everyday version. My notes simply say kale and corn in the hash, which is true- plus there was some yam in there as well, making the hash seem almost...healthy? (But in such a delicious, tasty way.) The bacon was meaty and cooked just right: not too crunchy, not too limp. Mom's Huevos Rancheros was also in a skillet (of course), and equally yummy, although I was in the mood for potatoes, not rice, so I was glad I'd chosen the hash instead. Our drip coffee was fine as well, although I'm an espresso girl, so I wished they'd had a machine. But that wouldn't really fit in with a dive bar, would it?
So now I've discovered what an excellent breakfast Jackalope does, will I be back? Damn straight, at least until the lineups start. "You know," I mused to my mom as we munched "I could have eaten at Denny's for free today, seeing as it's my birthday and all." But that was only to get a rise out of her,
because of course, I'm so glad we didn't.