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. 


Monday, 6 June 2016

On Addiction

I thought about the bag of newly-bought bagels in the freezer. And then I thought that I could keep making excuses forever. So I wrote a note on the communal whiteboard in the hall: I let my roommates know that they were welcome to finish off that bag of bagels. 
That was 2 weeks ago and I haven't had a piece of bread, a muffin, a dessert, or pasta since. 

Two years ago I wrote a post on my other blog, but I never published it. It was called "Loss". Here are some of the things I wrote:

I had an email from my employer, asking me to lose weight (I was a performer) ... I am angry that they took it upon themselves to ask me to lose weight even as I admit that it spurred me on to do it... I am proud of the self-control that took me to this point (I lost over 20 pounds), even as I am angry at a culture that judges women for being overweight... I wanted people to hire me, to like me, to DATE me. Did I want to stack the odds against me even more by being fat as well as old?

It's 2 years later. I don't work for that company anymore. A guy fell in love with me in spite of my age and my curves; a guy who treats me every day as if I'm the sexiest girl in the world. I have worked several times for a burlesque company that celebrates ALL types of performers: from drag queens to big curvalicious women to little skinny guys and everything in between. 

 I spent a lot of last year feeling kind of sick. Despite a lot of visits to the doctor I never found out why, but the fatigue, the sore throat, the faint-but-always-there headaches, the low-grade nausea? They weren't exactly conducive to working out. They were extremely conducive to comfort eating and laying around, it turns out.  So I gained weight. And yeah, I gained back all 20 of those pounds, because I was not feeling my best, and mainly because I stopped being careful about what I ate.

I'm in okay shape. I walk to work. I bike to lots of places. I did a 20km hike last Saturday. I run (sporadically). But I like food, and I love sugar, and it makes me put on weight. 

I am addicted to sugar, in a lock-up-your-jellybeans kind of way. I have indulged in some addict-like behaviours: 
I can't ignore sweet stuff if it's in the house. 
I have bought large amounts of sugary stuff and eaten way too much and then put the rest of it way down deep in the garbage or run water over it so I won't be tempted to have any more. 
I have felt ashamed about how much of something I've eaten. 
I don't feel in control of it. 
I resolve to do better and then I fuck up. Again. And again. And again.

Here are some things about being a sugar addict:
  • It's not like I weigh 300 pounds or anything. I have 20-30 pounds I'd like to lose. That's all. That's like, 3 cats. Or an accordion. Or a toddler. So to call myself an addict feels kind of over-the-top in a woo-woo, self-help, jargonistic kind of way. I'm not totally comfortable with it. But then, I'm not totally comfortable with my behaviour around certain types of food, either. So. 
  • You can't quit eating food (duh), so you need to be careful every day about what KIND of food you're putting in your body. 
  • If you're like me, the hard part isn't the first few weeks, when you're all fired up with righteous zeal, and it's not the next few months, when the weight is dropping off and people are showering you with compliments. It's when you get really comfortable in your new, slimmer body and you think I'll just eat this cookie. And this piece of cake. And this bag of jellybeans. And it begins, all over again. 
Some random thoughts about weight:

It's a thorny issue, because I FULLY SUPPORT ANYONE'S RIGHT TO BE BIG. OR CURVY. OR DOWNRIGHT GODDAMN FAT. Including my right. I will not starve myself, or go on fad diets, or learn to hate myself when I'm heavier. I know that many body types were not made to be thin. I could starve myself forever and I'd still be prone to big boobs and wide hips. And thank god. And so says my boyfriend. 

But I have stopped eating things made with flour again. Also desserts. Because every time I do that I lose weight. So yeah, I care. I want to weigh less and I want to be healthier and I so want to not be controlled by my sugar addiction . 

I saw a girl I'd done a show with a few years ago and she is way thinner now and also radiantly happy, but I didn't want to say "you look great!" to her because the truth is, she always looked great. She is a beautiful person, inside and out. Whatever she weighs. 

But at the same time, I love it when I've lost some weight and people notice. I would love to look as thin
     as good 
as I did 2 years ago, the next time I go up north, so that they don't think Oh, she's really let herself go since she was up here last. 

Last December, I saw a friend of mine, someone I used to see on the regular, someone whose healthy lifestyle has been a great inspiration to me over the last few years. She cheered me on and helped me out when I was losing weight, exclaimed with joy when I came back from my summer job tanned and lean and strong. This winter she didn't comment directly on my weight gain. She didn't have to. She was clearly disappointed and she hasn't been in touch since. I hope that it's just that she's been super-busy. I really hope so. I would hate to think that someone would give up on me. Would find me less appealing to be around because I'd gained weight. 

You know what's boring? Obsessing about weight. Don't eat that piece of cake and then cluck about how "naughty" you were. Be silent and strong and fierce, whether you're working to lose pounds or revelling in all your sexy curves. Or ask for help if you need it. Support your friend, whatever you think about her lifestyle choices. Make changes, try them out, and if you fail, try again. Do it for yourself, and for no one else. 

I remember now, why I didn't publish that other blog post 2 years ago. It was angry and proud and confused, which is all the things I still feel today about weight loss and body positivity and self esteem. There are no easy answers that I can find. And so I put this out there in hope of... what? I honestly don't want you to tell me that I look beautiful at any size. I don't want validation. But I'd love to know your thoughts. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

They're Baaaaack...

Bandidas Taqueria has become so popular lately that this little fox has stayed away, not wanting to squeeze in to the almost non-existent waiting area or lurk outside on the street to try and get a table. Recently they closed their doors to expand and renovate, and vegetarian hipsters around the drive went hungry.

Fear not, hipsters! After being shut for a while, this 7-year denizen of the Drive is back, with double the space (they took over the Himalayan restaurant next door), and soon-to-be open 24 hours (my server told me that they're planning to make that schedule switch around the end of June). They had a casual re-opening today, missing the long weekend by a hair (perhaps that was intentional, in case they had to work out any kinks in their newly-expanded space). My breakfast-loving partner and I were practically alone in the restaurant, and got served our Mexican Breakfasts (pinto beans, eggs, apple slaw, guac & cabbage) in record time.
As always, the food was delicious, and left me feeling way better than if I'd had a cheaper, greasier, breadier breakfast elsewhere. I love going to Bandidas in the evening for their cocktails, but as it inevitably starts to fill up with customers again, I'll probably wait until their 24-hour service starts, so that I can enjoy a cheesy burrito and hibiscus margarita in the wee hours.

I predict that Bandidas will do very well as a 24-hour restaurant (after all, the Naam's been doing it for an eternity over in Kits). Especially on the nights that the Rio Theatre has their late-night movie features. Arriba!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Kombucha Kronicles: Round 1

Kombucha is one of those things, like cilantro, that everyone has a strong opinion about. You're either going to love its tart, vinegary taste, or wonder why the hell anyone would bother drinking something that ferments from a strange grey jelly-like substance you'd normally run screaming from if you found it floating on your drink.
I mean seriously. This is some creepy sh*t right here.

If you believe the hype, kombucha- which is just a fermented mixture of tea, sugar, water and bacteria/yeast- can do anything:
  • help with digestion
  • detox your liver
  • assist in weight loss
  • reverse greying hair (I'm counting on this one!)
and much, much more. It's been around for a loooong time, probably originating in China but also becoming a staple in Russia and other eastern european countries. 

I don't know that I believe in kombucha's myriad uses as a health product (I'll let you know in a few months if my hair magically turns brown again...), but since I'm the kind of gal who loves those fancy drinking vinegars and would happily consume apple cider vinegar straight up if it wasn't so acidic, I love the taste. It's like a healthier, more refreshing soda! But you know what's NOT so healthy? 
My bank account, from buying too much fancy kombucha at the supermarket or worse yet, the farmers market. For a product that's made of very cheap ingredients, kombucha is very expensive. 

So I decided to make my own. 
Good timing: one of the actors in the play I just did had some extra SCOBYs. A SCOBY is the 'mother' of kombucha, the Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast that devours the sugar and ferments the tea until it is tart and fizzy. Matt brought the slippery grey discs to the theatre one night, sloshing around in a tupperware container. The following day I did the following:
  1. boiled distilled water
  2. brewed tea mixed with sugar in a 1-gallon glass jar (kombucha hates metal, so use glass containers and wooden spoons if possible)
  3. waaaaaaaaiiiiiited for the tea to cool
  4. added vinegar and 2 SCOBYs (might as well put both the little buggers to work, I figured)
  5. covered the jar with a cloth and attached it with a rubber band (keeps out flies but allows for ventilation). Again, kombucha hates metal, so don't use a jar lid.
  6. put the jar in the back of the cupboard under the stairs and tried to forget about it for a week.
After 1 week I gingerly nudged aside the very healthy-looking SCOBYs and had a taste. Still a bit sweet for my liking, so back into the cupboard it went for another 2  days. Yesterday I sampled it again and preferred the taste, so I gathered two 1-litre bottles and two 500ml bottles (thank goodness for a boyfriend who likes fancy beers with resealable airtight flip-tops). Today I scooped the SCOBYs out of the jar with clean, non-soapy hands and found that a new one was starting to form, which is a good sign. Then I funnelled the kombucha into the 4 glass bottles. 
To the two larger bottles I added some diced crystalized ginger and some frozen berries. These went back into the cupboard for a couple days of bottle fermentation. Hopefully by the end of that time they will be fizzier, and also infused with the flavours of the fruit and ginger. The two smaller bottles are in the fridge, and I had just a splash left over which I drank. Compared to the store-bought stuff I think it has a more tart, complex flavour; often the commercial varieties have been flavoured past recognition.

Now, the internet can scare you silly telling you about the health risks of home-brewing. I found that this site was useful in busting not only the negative myths but also the overblown myths about kombucha's many health benefits. It's always good to treat anything you read on the internet with a grain of salt, but at the same time I'm going to be as sensible as I can be regarding my kombucha experiment. I obtained the SCOBY from someone I know and trust. I used clean equipment and handled the tea as little as possible. I checked for mould. Obviously, if drinking the tea makes me feel shitty, I'll throw it out. 
If you live in the Vancouver area, Homestead Junction ( is an invaluable resource, both for equipment and also useful workshops and classes. I'll be taking a yoghurt-making workshop there later this month. 

Will I make kombucha all the time? I'm not sure yet. My roommate also loves it, so if she likes the stuff I'm brewing then there's a double incentive to keep making it at home at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. It's a fun, fizzy way to help stay hydrated when flat water gets boring, and there's a chance it might make me healthier. I can experiment with different teas and fruit flavourings as well. (This time around I'm brewing kombucha with green tea rather than black, and I'm going to add some fresh fruit and herbs when it's ready to bottle.) But too much of anything can get old fast.  Now that I have kombucha around all the time, I may just get sick of it. After all, as my friend Brian snidely remarked when I mentioned that I was making a large jar of kombucha: "The only downside to this is that you will have a large jar of kombucha."

Batch #2 brews up.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Bubble Bubble

I'm working on a play right now. There are many wonderful things about being employed, especially in this way, but the three nicest things about rehearsing are definitely:


The first week we were at Granville Island, which is a paycheque-sucker if ever there was. (Granville Island deserves its own blog entry, and one day I'll attempt it, though it may bankrupt me.) 

This week and next week we are at the very lovely Green Thumb Theatre rehearsal studios, in the Collingwood neighbourhood, right on Kingsway.

How I love Kingsway! I love that it's long, I love that it's still kind of seedy, I LOVE that it's a mecca for all sorts of Asian restaurants and groceries, from tiny hole-in-the-wall spots that might either be a health inspector's nightmare or a hidden treasure to well-lit giants with voluminous menus. There are swathes of Kingsway that are very Vietnamese, and indeed there are quite a few Vietnamese places in the vicinity of Green Thumb. But what I noticed right away were a plethora of bubble tea bars, and for some reason I decided that I absolutely HAD to try some right away, even though the one time I'd tried it, years ago, I'd found the tapioca bubbles disconcerting and the tea itself underwhelming. 

Am I ever glad that I gave it another try, and that I went to Milk & Sugar Cafe to try it. Milk & Sugar has an extensive bubble menu; not just the regular milk teas and green teas, but also fruit smoothies. They invite you to either try one of their flavour combinations, or invent your own. Unfortunately for my creativity, I tried the strawberry-lemon smoothie and that was IT. I want nothing more. The tart lemon balances out the sweet strawberry perfectly. M&S uses frozen fruit, so this drink is a less-sugary version of a drink that can often be overly sweet. 
The server checked with me that I actually wanted the tapioca pearls in my drink (I did), and they were delicious! Not at all as I remembered. These ones are extra big, slightly sweet, and wonderfully chewy. A few days later I tried a strawberry-lemon-peach concoction and had mango stars instead of tapioca pearls. Although they're sweet and tasty, I actually preferred the pearls. 
Milk & Sugar also has ice cream drinks and bubble tea that's actually made with, you know, tea, so if that's more to your taste, go for it. But I'm in heaven with my fruit smoothie and I'll stick with that. 

Just to make sure I wasn't missing out, though, I had to try another bubble tea joint as well. CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice bills itself as the world's largest bubble tea chain, so I figured they knew what they were doing. Their decor is definitely shinier and newer than M&S (I preferred Milk & Sugar's more relaxed decor over CoCo's overly plastic orderliness.) I decided to go with a more classic milk tea as they didn't have the selection of fruit smoothies that Milk & Sugar did. (Asian dessert/tea places seem to use mango as their default fruit, and I find mango overly sweet.) The Caramel tea that I ordered wasn't overly sweet, and the milk tea was smooth and milky, but the black tea taste came through nicely. CoCo's pearls are smaller than M&S' pearls, which I found a little disappointing, and overall although it was a pleasant drink I found it lacking compared to the fruit drink. I guess it's a matter of taste, and right now I'm craving fruit. 

One thing that does make me wince, though, is the amount of plastic I'm throwing away every time I have a bubble tea drink. (Why does this seem worse than a paper coffee cup? They're both wasteful. But plastic is just so... plastic-y.) I get that bubble tea is partly about looks- the bright, creamy colours and the contrasting black pearls or gummy fruits- so you need a see-through container. But I feel really guilty. Perhaps I'll bring a Mason jar to Milk & Sugar next time and see if they'll fill that for me instead. Fruity, chewy and guilt-free: what could be better than that? 

Milk & Sugar Cafe is at 3365 Kingsway, Vancouver. 
CoCo Fresh Juice & Tea is at 3275 Kingsway, Vancouver. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Hope Ya Like Jam(min') Too

So the holidays have come and gone, leaving their usual detritus: gyms full to bursting with earnest souls who will use their memberships until March; the regret of ten thousand greasy, sugary calories unwisely consumed; a strange fear and loathing of turkeys and oily roasted vegetables; a sudden rush on books about cleansing. We have all done things we regret over the holidays, but we miss them too: the freedom to eat whatever, whenever we please; perhaps time off work; the celebration of lights and music and of course, food.

I am no different: I miss the lazy freedom of December, and though like many of us I've had my fill of baked goods and roast beast, I cling to a few flavours that remind me of simpler times.

Surprisingly this year, the food I'm still using with pleasure is... Jam.

Specifically, Copper Pot Preserves Raspberry & Chipotle jam.

I found it in my local butchers, Harkness & Co. (they're amazing!), because they'd cunningly put out a dish of it alongside some salami-like sausage. A scoop of jam on a salami slice and...bam! Heaven. Lemon juice and tart raspberry flavour more than stands up to the bold smokiness of the chipotle peppers. I was hooked. I served it on Christmas Eve (with more cold cuts, and also with cheese, of course). I ate it alone, nestled between leftover slices of deli meat and with strong cheddar. And now, with the resolutions of the new year staring me down coldly every morning, I stir a very restrained small spoonful of it into my zero-fat yoghurt-and-granola every morning, and it is just as wonderful there.

Cooper Pot Preserves website informs the reader that the company is based out of Squamish. If, however, you live in East Van, you are blessed, because you can buy their preserves at Harkness & Co., or visit them at the Nat Bailey Farmers Market at least once a month. It looks as though they change up their products quite often, so the raspberry-chipotle jam may not always be available.