Vancouver’s Brewery District and beyond

A year and a half ago, we moved into Olympic Village Great beer and we weren’t that into beer back then. I remember that because the wedding was shortly after and we didn’t bat an eyelash about serving at the reception Heineken that we procured in a couple of cross-border runs. These days, we might still serve something from a large brewery but I would balk inside.

It really came into our purview the burgeoning brewery industry in Vancouver in 2014 and we happened to have moved into Olympic Village in fall 2013, the westerly edge of it all. Some breweries have been around for years upon years (Granville Island, Parallel 49) and more are popping up seemingly every month. In 2014, I visited breweries during a trip back to Halifax and brought NPY some East Coast brews and we have added brewery tasting rooms to our trip planning last year and this year in Kelowna, Seattle, Maui and LA/Palm Springs. I finally planned a birthday ‘do for NPY, last fall, wherein we went brewery hopping and hit up three breweries before having more beer with dinner!

For my part, I’m staunchly either a fruity beer or dark beer drinker. And by drinker, I take small sips and should only be served a sample glass at a time. I’m slightly terrified of drinking my calories so I’m usually just there for support, and to admire this fun and laidback trend sweeping the city.

A stone’s throw away

People are flocking to Vancouver’s Olympic Village because it’s a great space to visit and live with dense but down-to-earth living and the great establishments to get beer. Legacy Liquor Store is the Village’s neighbourhood very well-stocked liquor store well-known for its beer selection but it also has a great tasting room for their spirits and wines. The first big restaurant on the scene was Tap & Barrel right on the water and with two levels of massive patios that provide the million-dollar northwest views of the city. Craft Beer Market expanded on their Alberta locations and took over the heritage Salt Building as a major competitor. Craft doesn’t have the patios with the views but it has over 100 brews on tap.

What about microbreweries? Well the neighbourhood is getting some, in a big way. Late last year, Steel Toad Brewpub was the first microbrewery to open a stone’s throw from the Village. It is a big space with a dining hall seating over 150 guests and an emphasis on good food alongside their beers. With their 19-foot screen, it has sell-out evenings for recent major sporting events. Big Rock Urban Brewery from Alberta is located on Alberta Street and will open on April 10. With their BRU Eatery, they will up the stakes for dining in the area.

Ten minute walk away

Just a 10-minute walk away, there are several small microbreweries where the seating is capped at about 30 and you might have to stand outside in line and grab a bite first from the rotating line-up of food trucks at the location that day. These breweries include 33 Acres Brewing Company and Brassneck Brewery that I’ve been to, and R&B Brewing Company and Main Street Brewing Company that I haven’t been to yet. 33 Acres is our favourite of the area with a clean, hip(ster) tasting room, a hopping food truck pumping you up when you’re in line and delicious collaborations with Matchstick Coffee Roasters and Earnest Ice Cream. And they bring in and serve Cartems donuts. Soon, some time in April 2015, Red Truck Beer Company will be completed and have a 100-seat Truck Stop Diner. Count me as excited.

Twenty minute bike ride away

So you can’t drive after you drink but it does present an interesting challenge if you arrive and leave by bicycle… I haven’t done it but some others have and I’d like to think that it has an immediate sobering effect to have to steer yourself safely home after drinking, like the way NPY sobers up or gets much more alert even though he has been drinking when I take over as DD. :D

In Olympic Village, we are not East Van. For goodness sakes, most of the addresses are “West” ones…! The brewery density is highest in East Vancouver and we are kind of relieved not to be living right in the midst of it all! The biggest ones out there and we visited on NPY’s birthday are Parallel 49 Brewing and Bomber Brewing. I can and will write a whole other blog post about Parallel 49. Postmark Brewing is the East Van brewery with a dining establishment, Belgard Kitchen, that sounds worthy of a visit. Meanwhile, NPY and his beer bestie check out the smaller establishments in mid-week outings including Strange Fellows Brewing, Off the Rail Brewing Company, Powell Street Craft Brewery, and the frightfully small Storm Brewing.

I almost forgot – and how could I? – about Granville Island Brewing, possibly the oldest of them all but located squarely in the westside and so busy in touristy Granville Island that we haven’t visited yet.

Destination Brewery

Now, when we travel, in addition to seeking out the local office of my firm, now I have to (happily) seek out the brewery(ies) to visit. I am finally giving back to NPY (hahahaha) but he knows that sometimes I can get more eager than he does. As such, our quest has boozed up our trips to Toronto (Mill Street Brewpub), Halifax (Garrison Brewing Company, Propeller Brewery), Kelowna (Tree Brewing Company), Penticton (Cannery Brewing Company, Tin Whistle Brewing Company [Yelp]), Seattle (Elysian Brewery), Maui (Maui Brewing Company), Palm Springs (Coachella Valley Brewing Company) and LA (El Segundo Brewing)!

There are plenty more we want to visit in other cities and around the PNW and I’ve certainly left off local breweries I have not yet discovered we want to visit. The above map is certainly a work in progress!

A dose of the arts in Maui

What I found was that when we had the time to take things easy in beautiful Maui, the arts came to the forefront. Actually, we couldn’t get away from it starting with plentiful galleries on-site at the Grand Wailea Resort where we stayed which also offered gallery tours and watercolour and outdoor painting classes, none of which – sadly – I took up. The Shops at Wailea, a five minute walk from the resort, is home to the Lahaina Galleries and Dolphin Galleries, amongst others, and we caught some of WOW (Wailea on Wednesdays), a weekly arts and entertainment series hosted by The Shops at Wailea. There were galleries to take in in Paia and especially in Lahaina where we checked out the Martin Lawrence Galleries and the one right across from it – I forgot its name. Every Friday is arts evening in Lahaina, what I imagine to be a magical evening starting with a glorious sunset and then elegant and inspiring arts – since I wasn’t actually there.

Heather Brown (Honolulu/Kalakaua)

I first discovered Heather Brown’s art in Honolulu two years ago. I love the clean lines stylizing big waves and the vibrant colours she uses. When I see her work in surf shops, it’s apparent that her fun style is embraced by the community.

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Ken Loyd

We were in an art gallery in Paia where I saw Heather Brown pieces again and alongside it was introduced to Ken Loyd’s work. With more pastel colours, he renders softer stylized landscapes of Maui which are still super cheerful. I wanted to pick up a print, not ready to splurge on a giclée but none that were available had the over-all blue hues I was looking for.

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Pamela Sukhum

In the Martin Lawrence Galleries in Lahaina, which is at the corner of the bright intersection of Front and Lahainaluna, opposite another gallery and the railing where everyone takes in the water view and sunset, we discovered Pamela Sukhum. I almost overlooked the three walls devoted to her work but then the texture and colour drew me in. I like the general symmetry of many of the images and the nature subject but the colours made it fantastic. The texture adds to the wildness and I would touch it if in private with the work. There’s no point in getting a print or giclée of these works!

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Robert Bissell

After our first foray at The Shops at Wailea to raid the ABC Store and the general store, I wanted to go back and visit the art galleries of which there are a half dozen or so. As the name suggests Lahaina Galleries are found in Hawaii (three) and there is one in California, too. I overlooked the “weird bear art” that is on display at the front of the store but when I saw more of Robert Bissell’s work, more bears, I was enamoured. His rendering of the bears is so beautiful and they appear so gentle. The scenes are like fantasy but the type I enjoyed because of their whimsy.

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Dr. Seuss’ Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy

It seemed a little random but there was a Dr. Seuss section in the Dolphin Galleries at the Shops at Wailea. The Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy was cute, especially when the whole collection was gathered in a cluster on one wall. There was also one big piece we saw that I couldn’t find at the above website which was quite a different turn from the books, like an illustrated scene from Santorini or something. It was very pretty.

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Fabio Napoleoni

Finally, also at Dolphin Galleries, and NPY actually reacted and adored it, we stepped into a small room with Fabio Napoleoni’s pieces. They are utterly adorable and a little sad. These are the two pieces NPY liked and I quite agree.

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It’s like I’m a sun-seeker or something (my Palm Springs getaway)

A month and a day after we returned from Maui, we set off to Palm Springs. Life sounds so sweet, huh? Well, I’m starting a contract position in March that I respectfully did not want to mess up by taking vacation in the midst (I never do anyhow, never going away for my birthday in March, boo) and no other travel plans later this year. But the interface between the two roles presented a nice opportunity to go away and we (I) considered a few cities within the limits that NPY set, that is, nowhere far.

I considered Phoenix (never been to but NPY has), San Diego (never been to but NPY has), Palm Springs (both never been to) and good ole stand-by Las Vegas. We are practically nuts to consider going to the States with the current dollar but there is nowhere in Canada that you would want to go in the end of February – and that includes Vancouver. (It has been a horrible winter for eastern Canada.) A quick search of things to do in Phoenix kind of made me yawn – the cuisine doesn’t sound great and all that is recommended is to visit some parks and look at arid nature. San Diego is interesting and correspondingly expensive. Palm Springs yielded similar search results as Phoenix but it has the advantage of being a reasonable drive away from LA for some variety and action. Vegas was the cheapest and I was there last year for SIL’s stagette (wherein daytime Vegas was not exactly much explored) and NPY hasn’t been to since 2012 but he still wasn’t thrilled.

As it turns out, BIL and his girlfriend got “stuck” with flights to Palm Springs and it swayed our decision. NPY bemoans that we don’t travel with others and sometimes I can be darned inflexible with my dates and that precludes other people’s schedules. So I really wanted to be flexible once because goodness knows when I can be again. I’m always down for going somewhere different and making the best of it.

Like it would be so hard with Palm Springs… Palm Springs has over 300 days of sunshine [source] because it’s in a desert while Vancouver has on average 168 days of precipitation [source]. That’s a very good start….

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Day 1

So, we arrived in Palm Springs shortly after 11 a.m. on the direct Westjet flight. The airport is adorable and circular in shape and the draping white roof reminds me of Premium Outlets and walking into a resort hotel. I’ve seen far worse for small airports. We picked up the rental car and head towards our aunt’s vacation home in a gated community in Palm Desert.

We drove by Sherman’s Deli on the way to the house and with the multiple recommendations I’ve heard, I was confident suggesting it. Full from lunch, we drove half an hour out to Desert Hills Premium Outlets and Cabazon Outlets. We walked around the East Village wing of Desert Hills and I scored at Kate Spade and stuck to a theme. You gotta love 50% off outlet price then an additional 20% off! Overall, there was a high representation of high-end designer stores we didn’t have a taste for and we checked out the smaller Cabazon Outlets whose redeeming feature was the Under Armor store.

We shopped at Trader Joe’s and Walmart where we picked up a flat of water (much needed) and items to prepare dinner, snacks and breakfast.

Day 2

The next day, we set out for Joshua Tree National Park which was on Jo’s wishlist. (Outlet shopping was Chris’.) We entered the park but then exited to top up our gas, apprehensive of the possibility of running out in the middle of the desert/park. There was a Subway in the gas station and it inspired us to have that as a snack in the park.

Our stops in the park included Hidden Valley Trail, Keys View, Cholla Cactus Garden and Cottonwood Spring and we were there for several hours.

At some points on the nearly 60-mile drive, I wanted to stop and take a picture of the landscape where Joshua trees were dotted as far as you could see, not too densely, and each is so unique from single “trunks” to young ones with tidy branches to aged ones that look like a clan with so many branches and even bent over.

It seemed to me that a Joshua tree might be a metaphor for life and individual beauty. The desert conditions are harsh but the “trees” (they are in fact plants) survived if rooted deeply. Each one will branch differently and the are prickly when you see them up close, but they are all beautiful no matter the shape or stage. In The Glass Castle, which I have not read, Jeannette Wells employs the Joshua tree as symbolism representing the Walls children who struggle but attain a strange beauty.

Then we started seeing these cactus which I can only describe its colour as ombre and as they grew in number, we knew we had arrived at the Cholla Cactus Garden. Immediately there were signs warning of the cacti being hazardous. “If the plant any helpful or even innocent part in the scheme of things on this planet, I should be glad to hear of it.” It’s a shame such a cute plant has such a poor reputation, I found myself saddened for it.

The Joshua tree and Cholla cactus are so unique I want to grow one each of my own. You can buy Joshua tree seeds around Palm Springs and thank goodness I didn’t because my luggage got searched. :P

On our way back into town from the national park, we stopped at Coachella, NPY’s first brewery on the trip. I wasn’t overly pleased with the number of fruit flies and flies. They were really bold and settled on me even though I was walking around and away from the group. Making my Chinese New Year phone calls, you know. If it were just me and NPY, I might have pushed to eat at Villagefest but The Cheesecake Factory was far better and NPY doesn’t like street food.

Villagefest is a year-round street festival in Palm Springs on Thursday evenings so we definitely wanted to check it out, our stay being over a Thursday. It was larger than I expected and busy enough. It was our first glimpse of the city we were visiting and the streets were pleasantly palm-lined.

One of the coolest crafts I saw were the lanterns that looked “laser cut”. It turns out they were all made from tin cans and the artist was creating new ones on the spot. So I did take down her website, Tin Can Metal Art.

Day 3

We were off to LA! The day before was the first time NPY suggested staying overnight and part of me balked internally because of the cost but it was a good decision. I was chagrined to learned that my Starwood Points balance is pitiful and I couldn’t even get one night at a Four Points. I didn’t have enough Marriott points either. And Aeroplan where I was sure (?) I had enough points was down for maintenance all evening. NPY found a good rate for the Westin near LAX so we went with that.

We didn’t roll out altogether that early but we weren’t in a rush with two days now in LA. On our way into LA, we stopped at The Donut Man in Glendora quickly followed by Baccali Cafe in Alhambra.

We walked off lunch after a drive to Santa Monica. We wandered around the beach and pier then on Third Street Promenade. At the pier, we saw a sea lion again playfully swimming around the fishing lines at the end of the pier and a whale was nearby, too. As we left the pier, we started seeing people walking around their pet pythons, first at an intersection between the pier and promenade, then two more on the promenade! We’ll say my walk was spoiled and I was hiding in NPY’s shirt. Some colourful art in the Apple Store and Girl Guides selling their full selection of cookies were the highlights.

After Santa Monica, we were ready to head to KTown for dinner and were just shocked it would take over an hour to get 10 miles there. Checking into the hotel also seemed prohibitive so we just drove to the next neighbourhood, that is, UCLA in Westwood.

Our dinner was simple, at the campus In-N-Out which was as grubby and busy as any other with the added spectacle of university kids coming or going to a costume party. I was chuffed to learn that Chilly Ribbons (which I’ve had on my list to try for a while) is also on campus so we had a choice between truly shaved ice or ice cream sandwiches at Diddy Riese. Only I went to Chilly Ribbons. Chris discovered Bibigo and Jo and NPY got ice cream. Everyone was satisfied.

We checked in to the hotel and freshened up quickly to go to El Segundo Brewing with enough time before it closed at 10 p.m. It turned out to close at 11 so all the better. It is located at a happening corner and across the street from Rock & Brews which looks like a permanent beer garden, i.e., lots of fun. The brewery was far more fun and a better environment all around.

It was too early to turn in so we drove around the city since traffic was then light and observed the nightlife from the car on Sunset Strip, Santa Monica Boulevard and KTown. In Hollywood, we saw the block being set up for the Oscars ceremony that would take place two days later but of course we couldn’t see that much.

Day 4

We were a little directionless on Saturday in LA. Jo had seen and advertisement for the LA Farmers Market and I hoped she would like it more than I did. But in the very area was the Grove which provides photo opps if anything. We strolled through the market and then had a casual lunch at Veggie Grill. I thought we might just redo the meals from last year, that is, stick around and then eat a Umami but we left the area instead.

Chris expressed a great deal of interest in shopping at Uniqlo so I directed us to Beverly Center. NPY likes malls so everyone was accommodated. At the mall, we split up because NPY has had a hankering for a Superdry jacket for a while and we checked out the shop on Third Street Promenade to no avail. At the Beverly Center location, we scored from the clearance rack in the back, their signature styles of Windhiker (for him) and Windcheater (for me) were just $49, down from $110+. Not bad. If he was going to get one, I couldn’t be left out when the women’s styles were right next door. :P

Our two-day journey to LA was winding down and we had a two-hour drive ahead of us so we fueled up at Jeon Ju in K-Town on an early dinner. They are well-known for their bibimbap but our stone bowl wasn’t hot enough. I thought the new (to me) varieties of banchan redeemed the place.

We returned to Palm Springs and downloaded with our aunt and uncle who had come in not too much earlier than we did from Las Vegas via LA.

Day 5

Sunday was our designated chill and relax day and I did that to the hilt just eating and sleeping.

We had brunch at Norma’s which we discovered in New York. The Meridien that houses Norma’s in Palm Springs was a different turn from New York – funky and laid back compared to elegant and sparkly but the fun creations on the menu were still present.

Of all the surprises, it started to rain right after brunch so our plan to stroll We got rained out of Sunnylands were nixed. We learned about Sunnylands, “Camp David of the West” just the night before from our relatives and after checking out the website, I was eager to visit. We could only stroll the grounds because the tours were booked up for the next two weeks. Camp David is a name that has inspired my imagination until I finally read the Camp David Wiki page and it’s a prosaic military base. :P

Instead, we went to dropped NPY off at Morongo Casino Resort and deemed it too smoky to endure. Thus we missed out on the only celebrity sighting of the trip. He was watching and waiting for a low-limit poker table when he started to notice a fellow with sunglasses and a cap was flanked by one bodyguard. NPY thought it as Justin Bieber and later confirmed it by Google Image searching and matching the neck tattoo he saw. ;)

Chris, Jo and I returned to Desert Hills Premium Outlets and learned that the first day, we missed the West Village wing and checked out those stores which were more accessible in general than the ones in the East Village.

We raced back to meet up with our relatives for sushi at Okura Sushi, a splendid all-you-can-eat Japanese meal of exceptional quality. NPY did babble that it was the best food he had outside of Vancouver!

Day 6

Monday was our last day and we had nearly a full day. In the morning, NPY and I did an airport drop off for Chris and Jo then we walked around downtown Palm Springs. They have a Walk of Stars and by daylight and with a longer stroll, I could finally see some names I recognized. I also discovered Heavenly Couture, a California chain of shops that resells fashion so obviously imported from a Chinese wholesaler. Nothing was over $16. (Nothing was under $16 by my observation, either.) Another shop that is really pretty is Destination PSP.

We met up with our aunt and uncle for lunch at Elmer’s, a low-key diner chain after which, funny enough, we were ready to leave town as there wasn’t really time to do much. I discovered and would like next time to go on a windmill farm tour because those windmills in their number by both day and night can mesmerize me. It’s good that there are activities and sights for the next time we return.

On our relatives’ recommendation, we killed the early afternoon with a visit to Nordstrom Rack in Town Center Way but had a better time in Palm Desert Mall where I discovered Charming Charlie and liked it so much I blogged about it.

Our rental return time was two hours before our flight so we made it in time and just hung out at the cute airport until our departure.

After all of these years of hearing about Palm Springs, it was nice to visit but it was too soon after our last trip, even for my likes! It as great to travel with family on a real away trip. We just go our credit card statement (okay, could have checked online) and, oh, does that exchange rate hurt such that I’m for once happy to travel in Canada! That, I hope, will be in May!

The assorted meals we had in PSP and LAX

Co-worker: Where are you going during your time off?
Me: Palm Springs.
Co-worker: That’s great! Do you golf?
Me: No. Why do people keep asking me that??

Palm Springs is apparently good for golf (not just good, fantastic), outdoor swimming pools and eating. For us, it has a great central location and we had our pick of going to LA, Vegas or San Diego for a road trip while being based in Palm Springs/Desert. Of the three activities, despite our best effort at getting to a pool, we only got around to the eating. Lots and lots.

Sherman’s Deli

Sherman’s Deli’s Palm Desert location is really close to where we were staying. It was an immediate reminder of how Americans go big when it comes to food. Even for a late lunch, the restaurant was full and we waited for a table while ogling the cake display with towering tortes and getting a feeling for the demographics of the city.

I was utterly torn for what to get because honestly, I’m not a big fan of deli meats. I find corned beef too salty and pastrami sounds good but not when stacked thick. I wanted to have latkes and their macaroni and potato salad and their homemade chicken soup and hot & sour cabbage soup…! The “lighter lunch” combo did fit my undecided bent where I could have chicken noodle soup, half a sandwich and, pleasantly, a salad served with it.

The soup was salty but hearty and rich with herb flavours. The potato salad was creamy and had a great texture of softened potatoes and something like potato puree holding it together. And I was very pleased with my selection of meat which was New York style hot pastrami – the meat was marbled and the fact it was hot made it better.

Other orders around the table included raw roast beef and swiss, a Philly cheese steak and the corned beef sandwich with latkes instead of bread pictured below. Indulgent!

We reacted to the large deli lunch by having a conservative dinner at the house were were staying it. After a trip to Trader Joe’s followed by Walmart, we had plenty of food and made a dinner of steamed vegetables, pasta in Alfredo sauce and Trader Joe’s Japanese Style Fried Rice (with edamame, tofu and hijiki seaweed).

The next day, we set out for Joshua Tree National Park and Jo suggested when we prudently made a stop for gas before driving 60 miles through the park that we could pick up Subway sandwiches. It was a brilliant idea and we enjoyed our subs in the picnic area near Hidden Valley Trail and had the energy for an afternoon in the blazing desert sun.

Coachella Valley Brewing Company

After a day spent in Joshua Tree National Park, it just fitting to stop by a brewery to break up our drive back towards the city. The brewery is bright and new and their beers have music and musician derived names. I thought their branding was slick and ties in nicely with the annual music festival that for whatever reason has now reached my radar. Their beer line-up is IPA heavy, especially what is available on tap. I spied some “black label” bottles in the fridge that included stouts but we left empty handed.

The Cheesecake Factory at The River at Rancho Mirage

I had a bit of hesitation to go to The Cheesecake Factory. We go every trip! While the selection is diverse and we like what we like there, it’s a bit … boring, haha! So, I made do and ordered salad sides (Warm Asparagus Salad and Fresh Kale Salad) to complement NPY’s Pasta with Chicken in Scampi Sauce and felt some kind of health halo such that we could order cheesecake to go.

When we were in the US last November over (US) Thanksgiving, we spied the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake but definitely did not have the room for it. This time, we wised up and ordered it to go and they have special takeaway containers with a wedge-shaped compartment for a slice of cheesecake and a circular compartment for dollop of whipped cream. The cheesecake was deliciously light and fluffy and worth the wait.

The Donut Man

After I found out about The Donut Man and his strawberry donut, I think I was most looking forward to it this all trip. KCET proclaims it as LA’s Iconic Dish. It is one of those over-the-top items well worth the praise. We stopped by the shop which is conveniently open 24 hours a day on easily accessible Route 66. We selected three donuts to be shared among the four of us with Americanos on a Starbucks patio just down the street.

It was a good thing we had one small chocolate dipped cruller to offset the larger and heavier items. It would have been more sensational to have gotten the excessively long “Long John” but NPY put the brakes on that. The berry cream donut was topped with cream cheese whipping cream which I do enjoy. And the strawberry donut was just the right amount when you have less than one half. Each strawberry was perfect and glazed and the flaky glazed donut was a good accompaniment.

Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie [Yelp]

Our next stop before getting into LA was in Alhambra for a HKSC (Hong Kong Style Cafe) meal. I was aiming to eat in San Gabriel Valley, the “new” Chinatown, but this was close enough. During their lunch rush, they were busy but we got a booth in a corner right away. It was the second day of the new Lunar Year, a day of feasting and I saw several tables splurge on a lobster dish or two. The point of the Day 2 meal is to “open the year” and have so much food that there are leftovers signifying having plenty during the year. So we each ordered a dish.

We ordered XO seafood fried rice and black pepper beef chow mein which were solid. We ordered a baked fish filet in creamy cheese sauce that was really tart to the smell and I thought off-putting. And since rotisserie is in the name of the restaurant, I ordered a half-chicken with a side of Hainan rice. The half chicken was a good deal and the meat was roasted well and still tender in the white meat portions. The “Hainan rice” was a bit of a cop out and we routinely enjoy far tastier at one of our favourite restaurants in Vancouver. It’s what happens when you don’t know yet what is truly good in a city you’re visiting.

We were so delighted to see a small jug of condensed milk served with our milk tea and happily treated ourselves during this special New Year meal.

 

After lunch and after visiting Santa Monica Beach and Pier and Third Street Promenade, we were down for having dinner and originally wanted to go to K-Town. But a check with Google Maps and we were floored it would take over an hour to get there, just 10 miles away. And nearly an hour if we wanted to just rest up at the hotel. We hadn’t encountered such heavy traffic our last trip, so we just decided to go somewhere closer, to the UCLA area. Maybe we would eat dessert before heading for KTown dinner, haha. But we ended up picking up burgers at In-N-Out Burger, Chris and Jo’s first In-N-Out so I was happy to acquiesce and save a bit of money and appetite for …

Chilly Ribbons

Visiting Chilly Ribbons has been on my list for so long I wasn’t all that exited about it. In a bright shop reminiscent of those numerous self-serve froyo places, the ice block was described to us. Something about it containing pure juice and it was shaved into a cup after I selected my size and which flavours (mango and strawberry). The cup with shaved ice was weighed and I was off to the toppings bar where I didn’t quite know what toppings suited fruit-flavoured ice. Certainly not the candies and chocolates. I stuck to popping boba beads, a cube of grass jelly for NPY, a cube of coconut jelly and red bean. They container was weighed again and I was charged my final total and then told I could go nuts with the syrups! Just a bit of condensed milk.

Diddy Riese

The queue for Diddy Riese wasn’t too crazy right at dinner time although it was a Friday evening. Since I was having shaved ice, only NPY and Jo got ice cream sandwiches and were roundly impressed with the quantity, novelty and the experience. :)

El Segundo Brewing Company

Our thing now is to seek out breweries when we visit different cities but it can be a little difficult to me because I’m guessing at what NPY would like. I’ve heard of Washington and Oregon breweries but none of the California ones (in LA and Palm Springs) struck me as familiar. So, I was selecting ones to visit based on location and our hotel was closest to El Segundo. As we drove down a very industrial stretch with Chevron Refinery on one side, I was apologetic for what area I had directed us to but we turned onto Main Street, we were back to civilization and a happening corner of El Segundo.

The brewery is half underground and busy two hours before it would close for the evening. It was totally casual and everyone was happy. NPY and Jo ordered a flight each and some of the samples had nearly double the usual alcohol content! It was a completely different and very welcoming environment from the first brewery we visited (which simply needs to mature some and visit at a busier time) and a great spot. Rant Lifestyle ranked it third on its top 10 list and had said about El Segundo, “Do not, under any circumstance, skip this brewery.”

Veggie Grill

The next morning, we were back at the LA Farmer’s Market and The Grove where the latter, for me, is a constant disappointment. I thought the meals might be a redux of last year with the visit bookended by meals at Veggie Grill and Umami Burger. It would just be Veggie Grill.

This time around, I tried the Savory Kale Caesar and stuck with the Buffalo Chick’n Mini Wrap. The Kale Caesar was tasty and I chewy the tempeh “bacon bits” wondering what taste it reminded me of. Something Chinese and slightly musty. Which meant to me it wasn’t bad. The wrap was spicier than I remember and a disappointment in light of seeing Jo’s mac ‘n’ cheese that was an option for my combination. Split between NPY and me, we would have enjoyed the mac ‘n’ cheese which was unexpectedly good and unique with a touch of coconut milk.

Jeon Ju Restaurant [Yelp]

We capped off our two-day visit to LA with dinner in KTown at a restaurant well-known for its bibimbap. Well, our expectations were raised. We were there for a pretty early dinner so it wasn’t busy yet. We each ordered a bibimbap and NPY selected a tofu soup and Chris and Jo got a japchae.

Shortly before our food arrived, the banchan appeared. I was intrigued to see some dishes I hadn’t before encountered including the chive pancake, marinated celery (yech), cold chili mini octopus (yech!), kimchi daikon in cold broth (not pictured) and warm kimchi napa and noodles in broth. I especially like the warm banchan.

From what we got to taste, the japchae was fragrant and delicious and wonderfully al dente. NPY was disappointed with our kalbi bibimbap which wasn’t hot enough or intense enough in flavour – Jo and Chris enjoyed their bulgogi beef bibimbap more. And when the server brought to us our soybean tofu stew, we caught a whiff of what seemed to be like b.o. like that coming off a big sweaty jock. We identified that smell from our stew and it was a little scary – I guess soybean paste can differ quite a bit from one brand to the next! I didn’t taste at all like the smell and I got accustomed to the smell. We did enjoy the stew more than the rice.

Norma’s Parker Meridien Palm Springs

When we were last in New York (in 2011), Bonnie introduced us to Norma’s in the Parker Meridien. She was bringing all of her visitors there where the creations were crazy and portions were crazier. So I was excited to go again upon learning there is a Parker Meridien Palm Springs with a Norma’s. I neglected to refer to our 2011 meal there to avoid ordering the same dishes, haha. So, brunch at Norma’s on Sunday was the one NPY and I arranged as a “thank you” to our hosts, NPY’s aunt and uncle who let us stay in their vacation home.

The Parker Palm Springs is a quite different from the Parker hotel in New York which was fancy and elegant. As fitting Palm Springs, the Parker there was funky and the restaurant was practically outdoors. It was because I had suggested the whole affair that I was worried.

We were given shotglasses of the smoothie of the day which was prepared with berries while we perused the menu and weighed which brunch or lunch dish to order. Everyone was torn between at least two choices!

Aunt and Uncle went with lighter fare, “Rabbit Food”: Rock Lobster and Mango Salad and Charlie’s Chopped Cobb Salad (not pictured, rather, it’s in the background of the other salad). These were colourful creations and the lobster I tried was fresh and excellent for rock lobster.

NPY got Norma’s Eggs Benedict, of course. To my delight, Jo ordered the Claw’s and Chip’s Gone Fishing, a version of fish and chips with lobster and Chilean sea bass.

I got the Waz-Za? which was familiar from the last time for its berry content and to provide NPY with something sweet to eat after his eggs Benedict. I really enjoyed the yogurt as waffle syrup and it all tied together to nicely who would think fruit, yogurt and waffles could be so decadent?

Okura Sushi

Our aunt and uncle’s recommendation was Okura in La Quinta and they way they described it, we were completely on board: all-you-can-eat beautifully plated good quality sushi. We were unfortunately late arriving for dinner, dashing back from the outlet mall in Cabazon but aunt and uncle could check off a pile of items to get us started and handed it to the server as soon as we arrived. They bring all of their visitors to Okura so they knew which items were especially worth trying.

Tempura vegetables and shrimp: the bottom piece was an onion! It was an unpleasant surprise but then was a bit like an onion ring, heavy on the onion though.

Dynamite Rock Shrimp: lovely presentation in these cute goblets – the shrimp were small but plump, fried and drizzled like ebi mayo.
Chicken Robata skewers

Nigiri: chopped scallop, masago, tuna, unagi, tamago

Two bottles of this “Aladdin bottle” were imbibed.

Spinach Goma-ae

Serrano Hamachi carpaccio

Rolls!
Baked Scallop – California Roll topped with baked scallops, a miso glaze and eel sauce. I especially liked this one because the baked scallop was especially tasty.
Crunch – Shrimp tempura, avocado and tempura flakes
Red Dragon – Shrimp tempura, cucumbers, spicy tuna and avocado
California – Crab with avocado
Hotate – Spicy scallops with green onion and tobiko

Agedashi tofu

Robata grilled spare ribs

Mochi ice cream in strawberry and mango flavours

Chocolate and creme brulee

Matcha ice cream

Not pictured but ordered and ingested: a second round of nigiri including salmon, gyoza dumplings, miso soup, sashimi salad, wasabi Caesar salad, seaweed salad, Sonomono “Cucumber” salad,

Elmer’s Restaurant

One more meal before we hit the road (rather, before our flight). We suggested Elmer’s Restaurant or the cool-looking Lulu California bistro in downtown Palm Springs. Aunt and uncle countered with Elmer and Grill-A-Burger so we settled on Elmer’s. They have plenty of locations in Washington and Oregon so I wanted to try it out in case it becomes a go-to restaurant when we make our day trips state-side.

I was kind of advocating that NPY get the impressive German pancake topped with breakfast items like eggs and sausage while I was sticking to a BLTA sandwich and salad combination but he didn’t take me up on it and got a decent chicken-fried steak sandwich. The soft bun with my sandwich tied it together well, surprisingly. Uncle ordered potato pancakes which were a nice and savoury turn.

Colourful discovery: Charming Charlie

We were killing off our last afternoon in Palm Springs and ended up at Palm Desert Mall.  We didn’t even know the name of the mall except it was a Westfield one. At the entrance near where we parked was a storefront as big as a Forever 21 and all these candy colored accessories on display.

Why not walk around? NPY often thinks we go through a mall so quickly, neither of us ducking in shops.

It was like a candy store without the calories and all the girly accessory goodies were arranged by colour. Everything was disposable fashion and trendy and sparkly and pretty. I thought I would walk out empty handed, so overwhelming was the choice.

I did end up with one mixed materials bracelet that’s just up my alley of being sedately complicated.

When I went to pay, the cashier asked for my phone number but I declined because I don’t know my US number offhand and explained I was traveling from Canada. She asked me, so cheerfully,  if I was from, “Victoria,  Surrey,  Brampton or Vaughan.” Are those the only Canadian cities she knows and how strange is that.

It turns out Charming Charlie is expanding outside of the US and already in those cities: in Guilford Town Centre in Surrey, Uptown Centre in Victoria, Bramalea City Centre in Brampton and Vaughan Mills in Vaughan.  Brilliant! But I’m skeptical what the prices are like in Canada. It costs more than H&M/F21 but the selection is larger, the pieces better in quality and feel and the styles more mature.

Here are the price ranges I noted:
* Bracelets 10
* Necklaces 15
* Watches 20
* Flats 20-25
* Bags 25
* Dresses 35-45

I expressed to NPY how much I like the store the same way I do with David’s Tea: “I want to buy a franchise!” Which is funny if you know how little a head or balls I have for business. :P

Ebates.ca

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My first Ebates.ca-qualifying order was last December, a tiny order from Chapters and only after kicking myself for forgetting to use it for a larger Chapters order and a Body Shop order just a few days before. I’ve actually had an Ebates account for a year but don’t shop online that much. I’m only two years behind the game as the rebate website launched in Canada in 2012.

Ebates came back into my purview in the summer when I was informed that Groupon is on it. To think of all of those Groupons I’ve purchased through the app – it’s so easy – on Saturday mornings from bed and I didn’t get a rebate!

It didn’t hurt that over the holiday season, I would notice their commercial every time it aired. When will I have accumulated $900 of rebate? That’s an awful lot of spending.

For now, I have some retailers committed to memory: Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic, Chapters, Amazon, The Bay, Home Depot and GoDaddy. Last year, I discovered the awesome ease of getting Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic shipped and then returning items effortlessly at the shops within the mall downstairs or just down the street from my work. I did, infact, miss out on some rebates, then, during my summer Gap/Old Navy shopping sprees.

A year ago, I made a Home Depot order but seemed to have messed up and didn’t get a rebate. Recently, my Starbucks purchase didn’t result in a rebate either. Is there a minimum spend? No, the rebate is just on “Drinkware and Equipment” and “Coffee and Tea”, not gift card purchases or card reloads. Darn.

So I’m very reassured to receive “Cha Ching! You’re in the Money” emails from Ebates. Even though I expect them, they arrive at varying times after I place my order so it’s still a pleasant email to receive.

With over 500 online stores that ship to Canada part of Ebates, my current rule of thumb: check every Canadian website before ordering!!

2015: Year of the non-fiction/self-help book?

I went on a bit of a book shopping spree. It was partly spurred by multiple trips to Chapters stores while Christmas shopping – I simply love their curated selection of gifts – and my current mood. In the last part of last year, life felt so unsettled and it disappointed me how small experiences and normal experiences alike could upheave my life so much. I desperately tried to rationalize things but my philosophical arsenal is feeling a bit thin. So I have procured the following books to set in front of myself to read this year …

  • Cameraon Diaz’s The Body Book – it’s a refresher on good habits and an easy and light read on food science where Diaz’s voice is congenial, like talking to a knowledgeable girlfriend
  • Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know for Sure – I thought I was going to give up on this after excessive name-dropping about dancing in Tina Turner’s concert and hanging out with Quincy Jones but my e-reader progress bar told me I was already 8% of the way in so I’ll kept at it
  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life – eating heathily for me has to be a mixture of forces both external and internal
  • Deepak Chopra’s What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul – apparently I’m looking for a soulful way to control my impulses (rather than hating myself after overeating) – only recently have I watched an infomercial starring Deepak Chropra so I’ll give one volume of his work a read
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself As You Really Are – as an audiobook
  • Jessica Alba’s The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You – what’s with the celebrity reads?!
  • J.L. Witterick’s It’s Actually a Good Thing – this book was promoted so much in ads in my work elevator it worked on me
  • Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – title got me as I don’t think I’m that kind of girl either
  • David Allen Klinkenberg’s On The Origin Of Religion – this is a follow-up read to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael from last year, although not the usual one (which might be Quinn’s Providence), but I happened to meet the author and he quoted me the prologue and alluded to exposition therein that I haven’t found elsewhere – having not read academic theses in a while and never one that is theological or philosophical, it could be one of the more challenging reads for me.
  • Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist – I heard an interview with Roxanne Gay (CBC? NPR?) and was intrigued by this volume; recent influences I’ve encountered in social media have me thinking about my brand of feminism after so many years of apathy – do I really want to be lost any longer?
  • Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian – this book sounds so important for Canadians to read, learned about it from it being a finalist in Canada Reads 2015

Last week, we were in Maui

In a stroke of brilliant timing over which I didn’t have control, we (NPY and I) were off to Maui from January 11 to 17, six days after I returned from Christmas holidays. It was a conference for NPY’s work with only the awarded top performers in their departments in their regions, 360 employees and their guests. It was mostly leisure (thus checking off the “Primarily reason for travel” is Leisure and not Business) with nightly functions. From the moment we landed and were greeted by the events team with hefty floral leis, my expectations were blown out of the water.

We stayed at the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, which was my colleague’s first guess for our accommodations. Only the best for the top performers. :) We thought at first we had a dinkiest room on the ground floor with no ocean view and not in the grand central section but ours was a recently renovated room and I say we got the “garden suite” experience with the patio that opened onto the lawn.

 

Private function: Dinner buffet in Haleakala Gardens (Grand Wailea)

We started things off with a low-key buffet dinner since people were trickling in from across the country. With the conference location in Maui (it was in Cancun last year), Vancouver travelers were the luckiest with a direct 5-hour 40-minute flight departing in the morning and giving us most of the day in Maui. Direct flights to Maui are still a rare offering for the Canadian airlines (the only other one is from Calgary) so I felt so bad for Toronto/Ontario people – which is the bulk of the conference attendees – who had to have layovers in Vancouver (or Calgary or Dallas), a five-hour flight, before the cross-Pacific leg. Inevitably, some of them were delayed and they all arrived in the late evening.

 

Anyways, the lovely part of buffets is the ability to load up on greens with the first plate to feel better about the second plate consisting of hot foods. I grabbed a fragrant warm bun and enjoyed shrimp cocktail, asparagus, walnuts and tomatoes.

We hadn’t eaten properly all day (just a breakfast at Burger King at YVR, lol) but didn’t make a huge dent into the hot food. Maybe I was saving room for dessert… :P The roasted tomato bisque with a flaky pastry topper was the best part and the sweet potato mash was surprisingly tasty (i.e., tasted more like regular potato). The crab cake didn’t quite live up to expectations, the risotto was a little dry (should not be in a warming pan like that), vegetarian strudel pastry was undercooked, beef skewer and chicken was dry. But I got to have a taste of everything.

So, my mum just dreams of returning to Hawaii. I joked with NPY that if I worked for his company or otherwise won a trip to Hawaii, even if it was my first and probably only time, I would bring my mother. In my youth (before I was 12), we went to Honolulu twice and Maui once. I can vaguely remember the tiger prawns and fruit display. We very possibly did stay and/or eat at the Grand Wailea but who would know any longer?

When I told my mother we had a buffet dinner, her first question was if there was plenty of fruit – I totally predicted that question! Disappointingly, no, and the spread was just sweet desserts petit fours style. I just sampled a bit of everything I grabbed and – so typically Chinese – only ate all of the lemon raspberry cake and passionfruit, and the dusty chocolate tart. The chocolate ganache was too rich as could be expected and I couldn’t eat too much of the tiramisu. The creme brulee in a cute tea cup was more creme caramel and too firm in texture.

Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)

When we have breakfast buffet in the Grand Dining Room Maui, we are enjoying the same buffet with the rest of the resort patrons. The selection is adequately extensive and the view is just spectacular overlooking the resort’s reflecting pool and the ocean beyond. However, we were usually seated in the front section of the dining room and not right up at the edge of the balcony.

Of special note for their offering was the smoothie with poha berry, cantaloupe, orange, banana, honey (delicious), sweet and moist bread pudding – what a treat for breakfast! – and the coconut waffle that I topped with coconut syrup, banana chips, coconut flakes and sunflower seeds. Yes, I was endeavouring to make it so Hawaiian! :P

Here’s the fruit spread – not laden with fruit but a great way to end breakfast each day. When in Hawaii, I enjoy papayas. Especially in a buffet setting when I can pick the pieces I want and not have to eat the whole thing before it spoils!

Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante (Four Seasons Resort)

On our first full day, we walk along the boardwalk behind our resort. To the south, we came across Four Seasons, Fairmont and “million dollar homes”. To the north, we came across the new Andaz and many vacation condos. Ferraro’s was recommended to NPY by a client of his so we used it to narrow down between dining at Four Seasons or Fairmont. When queried, NPY first said we would get a drink but when it looked like we would be seated at the bar in the middle, we amended it and said we would eat something and were seated at the edge of the restaurant. What a view!

We started with complimentary Maui onion foccaccia served with local olive oil. Our food item to share was a seafood pizza and since I forgot to snap a photo of the menu, I recall it saying it had local lobster, shrimp and some crab meat, and avocados. The seafood was so fresh smelling and the crust was baked nice and crispy. It was a decision between pizza and the lobster melt where a recommendation for the the latter – I learned after we ordered – was the highest rated tip in Foursquare.

Private function: Luau in Molokini Gardens

As we walked along the boardwalk on the first day, we caught sight of the preparations on the resort grounds and guessed it was for our luau. Two years ago, we attended our first luau and it was in Oahu. We got the full-on tourist/commercial luau with stories and songs, cultural demonstrations and fire-throwers. The food was a tour of local cuisine with a Kalua pig and (yech) poi.

This was a completely different affair with nearly 800 people connected through the workplace, sitting with friends, something to truly celebrate and a menu selected with great care. The entertainment was always classy and of high caliber and tailored for the event. There was no Kalua pig or poi.

 

 

The hors d’oeuvres were so-so and I was surprised that I liked the mini panini most, over the mac ‘n’ cheese croquette and scallion pancake. The best surprise were the Hawaiian sweetbread rolls that were purple (taro) and pink (guava)! While the taro roll didn’t taste overly taro, the guava one had a really nice touch of sweetness.

The meal was served family-style and it was dark so all I could do was photography my own plate after fumbling in the low light trying to plate what I grabbed as tidily as possible. :) I can’t say I’m a fan of the mixed greens I’ve had so far but keep having to have some because it is veggies. NPY has enjoyed beets in this kind of presentation and there was more asparagus. The breaded shrimp was the best part.

The mains sounded mouth-watering for the most part but the execution was lacking. The cauliflower puree was weak but the mashed potato was pretty good. The mahi was really dry and my piece of short ribs really fatty (too fatty for even me). The vegetarian meat loaf was so dry all of us only just took one bite. I would only have gone back for seconds on the kale and swiss chard sautée.

Once again, I was looking forward to dessert. The creme brulée tart was soggy but the chocolate banana tart was nice as was also the fruit cup with the smooth dollop of whipped cream underneath.

Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)

For our second breakfast, there was a slightly different offering. The bread pudding was made with coconut croissant and still delicious and I got an egg white omlette from the made-to-order omlette station. I discovered there was smoked salmon (also there the first day but I missed it) and I had a coconut pancake with coconut syrup and macademia nuts. Keeping up with the Hawaiian theme.

Cinnamon Roll Fair (Kihei) [Yelp]

Our second full day was a driving day and we started in Kihei after the bust of an attempt to see turtles in “Turtle Town Maui”. Kihei is where NPY’s client stayed and based most of her list of recommendations. Just north of resort-heavy Wailea, Kihei is where you stay if you want a more local experience – our tour guide the next day would tell us Kihei is like 80% ex-pats and of that like 75% Canadian. Even if his numbers are off, we get the point. The guide is from SF and lives in Kihei so couldn’t recommend it enough.

NPY’s client couldn’t praise The Cinnamon Roll Place any higher so we tried it and washed it down with unsweetened coffees. It did taste nice and fresh-made and was a regular but well-executed recipe. It was not dry at all and I thought it was gooey and moist like Cinnabon/Cinnezeo but without the weird slimeyness I’ve come to notice about the pastry with the chains. This held us over for a really long time!

Geste Shrimp Truck (Kahului)

When we were finally somewhat hungry, we hit up Geste for shrimp scampi. The scampi style of preparation was really the only choice for us. Twelve pieces were served with crab macaroni salad (with potato) and white rice. Since NPY wasn’t feeling well, I had all twelve pieces and the salad, oy. It was good – a bit of an Asian sauce (soy?) in addition to the traditional garlic and butter scampi recipe.

I have to resist comparing Maui unfavourably with Honolulu/Oahu. It’s a completely different pace and place. Because when we found Geste, it was a far cry from the set up of Giovanni’s on the North Shore of Oahu and frankly, I worried they weren’t actually busy enough and the food wouldn’t be fresh. I would be wrong and we had gotten there at the weird super late lunch hour of 3:30. As we wrapped up, several more cars arrived and happily made do without a seating area and ate sitting on the hood of their cars and looking out at the water.

Scoops (Lahaina) [Yelp]

We were aiming for Ululani’s but the location we found was closed so we went to Scoops. The server was super friendly and made a lot of jokes but we thought there was a calculation “error” which we didn’t bother to fight. We shared a large shaved ice with strawberry and root beer syrup and there was a scoop of passion fruit sherbet in the bottom. We had this so late it was in danger of killing my appetite, even for a late dinner!

Bistro Molokini (Grand Wailea)

In order to get to maximize the time we had our one-day car rental, we had a late dinner at 8:45. I was surprised that I could eat as much as I did at that late hour!

I learned that when we are on our own for dinner at the select restaurants that accommodated us, we only got to order off a smaller menu, which means there will not be poke for me this trip it seems. Oh well. We ordered the papaya salad and the caprese salad for the greens. The other choice was an all-fried pupu platter but we had to balance our appetizers with our mains!

For mains, we ordered fish and chips and chicken pasta. Despite not being ravenously hungry, I could still put away shoestring fries dipped in tartar sauce and penne pasta in a creamy sauce. The fish was good in moderate amounts and I didn’t have the appetite to have any of the blackened chicken!

I was so pleasantly surprised with dessert and we ate it despite our diminished appetites! The pineapple tart was served with coconut ice cream and consisted of a fresh pineapple ring on a disk of flaky pastry. I figured I was getting in my fruits eating the tart and all of the toasted coconut garnish. The chocolate brownie sundae was a tower and I just ate (more than) my share of the chocolate ice cream and cookie crumb layers. :)

Breakfast buffet in the Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)

On our third morning we were off to an excursion so we just grabbed some quick food for breakfast – most of the yogurt and buttered cinnamon bagel.

Tommy Bahama (Wailea)

I scoffed when I saw we were having dinner at Tommy Bahama for one of the more structured dinner functions. You see, there were four restaurant options and only three days and eating at a chain restaurant seemed like a waste. However, I will give it a pass since it’s a chain I’ve never before tried and it had a bright and friendly vibe.

Once again, there was a prix fixe menu and we eschewed more salad for appetizers. NPY ordered the ahi fish tacos which were Asian-styled with crisp wonton shells, a sweet sauce and scallions and slaw. I would prefer a less Asian take but having just one of the three was okay with me. I ordered the chicken tortilla soup which was a miniature portion for the prix fixe but hearty and tasty nonetheless.

There was another chicken pasta option with the driest looking slab of chicken breast and a ribs so we opted for easier to eat filet mignon and a macademia nut crusted snapper. The fish was my entree and the portion was more than ample and it was nice and tender baked. There was more asparagus which I dutifully ate and then enjoyed the rice pilaf.

We ordered one each of the only two desserts. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy my key lime pie but turned out I almost couldn’t stop eating my share – because it didn’t taste as lime as I worried. The chocolate layer cake was massive and I only has a couple of tastes.

Private function: Breakfast buffet at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Grand Wailea)

After three breakfasts in the Grand Dining Room, we were eager to break fast at Humu which is right on the water with a view of the manmade pond as opposed to the beach from the Grand Dining Room. The decor is rustic and Polynesian in theme and the restaurant was serving just our group for breakfast. The selection was much the same as what we were accustomed to and the ambiance more relaxed and quiet. We found the food wasn’t kept as hot but the presentation of fruits and pastries was nicer.

Private function: gala dinner in Haleakala Ballroom (Grand Wailea)

They pulled out all of the stops for us again with the gala dinner with an Asian theme in decor and dinner (the appetizer, at least). We were floored and got into the awards night vibe of the evening although NPY would not be especially and individually honoured as I had secretly hoped. I wasn’t thrilled with the menu, to be honest, starting with the Asian-inspired salad. But tatsoi turns out to be an intriguing vegetable with qualities of watercress and spinach and the smoked duck breast was quite nice.

Our main was a “surf and turf” which I wouldn’t normally order for myself and turned out to be a huge portion of food. We were introduced to onaga, a Hawaiian snapper, that was two portions and it was served with tenderloin. I couldn’t make much of a dent into the onaga which I found dry by enjoyed the tenderloin, bundle of carrot and asparagus, and sweet potato mash.

Dessert was good and I was glad to have an appetite after the main course for this one, a macademia nut mousse that had ample chocolate mousse.

Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)

We were back to the Grand Dining Room for breakfast on Friday. There are small variations in their potato, sausage and bread pudding offerings every morning which pleased me. For my second plate, I conscientiously tried to diversify my fruit intake including having some of the poha berry smoothie.

Maui Brewing Company (Lahaina)

When our kayaking and snorkeling excursion got canceled due to unsafe waves, we were itching to leave the resort and got a car rental last minute. I was glad for this because on the first day we were out, I really wanted NPY to hit up Maui Brewing Company and this was our chance and our first stop. NPY enjoyed a flight and shortly after had some McDonald’s French fries to soak it up.

Hula Grill’s Barefoot Bar (Ka’anapali)

We also wanted to check out the other resort area, Ka’anapali and we pulled into Whalers Village. The parking rate was steep so we had to eat in one of the dining establishments in order to get validated parking, haha. It was Happy Hour at the Barefoot Bar side of the restaurant where tables were set up on the patio in a giant sandbox but the specials were just on drinks.

After all of the local/Polynesian/seafood we had recently, a cheeseburger hit the spot. They offered to split the burger which is why the photo looks so funny!

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Grand Wailea)

On Monday morning at 8:00 a.m., I was the most likely person to sign up the group for our dinner reservations on Tuesday. We had decided to dine at Bistro Molokini but I was curious about Humu which advertised their accolades and famous chef. I also noticed that the queue to sign up for dinner at Humu was the longest and later learned it “sold out” the first. Thus it was imperative that our last dine out evening on Friday would be there and we managed to secure that reservation on Wednesday.

NPY had the abalone chowder which had a bit of a kick and I had the ribs which were rubbed with lemongrass and cilantro. The chowder portion was small but the ribs with five pieces, were plentiful and tender.

NPY got the filet mignon again because it was so highly recommended. Our other choice was mahi and we were off that dry fish so I ordered the macademia nut crusted tofu. The macademia nut crust was a touch sweet but I guess it was a good balance. The medium-firm tofu was not a hit with others but I enjoyed it from the slightly chewy exterior that gave way to a smooth inside. I did not enjoy the purple potato mash which was too dry.

Dessert was also a smash making Humu our favourite dinner. We ordered Humu pie with macademia nut and Kona coffe ice cream and a relatively lighter coconut panna cotta with coconut wafers and, coconut coriander wafers and a small scoop of coconut sorbet.

Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)

Our last breakfast was on Saturday and there was no question we would be back at the airy and grand Grand Dining Room. We made it a good one with made-to-order omelettes, smoked salmon and plenty of fruits!

Portland is happening now

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I couldn’t help it.

When I started seeing the adorable and fascinating illustrated “Portland is Happening Now” posters as far back as in the fall of 2013 when I took the SkyTrain, I was drawn to the campaign and wanted to visit the city I last visited in 2009.

In the fall of 2014, I met someone who relocated to and stayed in Portland, a musician for whom the city with its indie scene and hipster and counterculture is a perfect fit. But then when everyone is counterculture, wouldn’t I looking straight-laced and unafraid to be so be refreshingly counter-counterculture? Touché?

Now, I am hyperaware of what’s going on in that vibrant city south of us, as I’m wont to be, and why not?  For Vancouverites, it is a reasonable road trip destination being within a five-hour drive. During the Black Friday that just passed, we debated about making a day trip to Portland or just spending the four days in the Seattle area-we went with the latter but agreed our interest in re-visiting Portland is certainly piqued.

I was last in Portland in 2008 for the marathon and then in 2009 for Black Friday shopping. Sad to say, I wasn’t enthralled by the city back then but we obviously didn’t participate in the culture that is so charming nor were we particularly accepting of it. Instead, we thought the food truck area seemed grubby, Chinatown was disappointingly virtually non-existent, we weren’t impressed with the brand that is Voodoo Donuts (or the donuts themselves) and beer wasn’t a big part of the guys’ lives yet. We have since matured and will explore the city better. I did find myself enjoying the scenery during the marathon and it is still my best time so I hold that whole visit dear.

How else did the city (and state) make it on our radar in the past year? Both legalization of gay marriage and cultivation of marijuana for non-medicinal use were passed. That’s really cool.

In the summer, when I didn’t win tickets to the premiere of If I Stay, I listened to the audio version. (It’s not the type of book I want to actually read.) The backdrop and characters paint a picture of Portland, Oregon and the surround area from the accident in snowy Clackamas County to Mia’s aging former punk parents and the rock and classical musical scene Mia and Adam move in.

It turns out there is a sketch comedy series that wrapped their fourth season called Portlandia. I watched an episode on Netflix and I’m not a fan of the comedy style. Yet, I do believe that means the city has arrived.

A recent BBC Documentary Archive podcast revealed Portland as the epicenter of a karaoke movement in a piece called, “Karaoke as Art?” [mp3]. In the piece, the narrator listed Portland’s attributes: “What is Portland famous for? Well, as I’m finding out: rain, hipsters, coffee, more rain, street food – delicious street food – rain, indie music, microbreweries, rose garden, cycling, karaoke and – stripping.” I am eager to visit because it seems like such an inspiring place. Like ideal for a writing retreat, if I were in a position to go on one.

Then the most recent piece I’ve come across and inspired me to post about the city: a Brit + Co article “Move Over, SF + NYC – These Cities Are Gonna Be Big in 2015″. As I scrolled through the list where Portland is the fifth on the list, I knew it was coming up.

We’ll be back in 2016 at latest because I’m doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Cascadia Trio that year. There is now a “necessity” to make a pilgrimage to visit microbreweries such as Rogue and Deschutes. I’ll not cheap out and visit the Portland Japanese Garden next time. And we’ve heard about the spectacular beauty of Cannon beach and the coastal drive and I would like to see it for myself.

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Images from http://www.travelportland.com/about-us/portland-happening-now/

Forget December 23 as the worst travel day…!

I forgot that I had blogged about the same thing around this time last year – I am consistent if nothing!

This past Christmas/New Year holiday, I head home on Christmas Eve on the red eye. It wasn’t exactly my desired date to leave as I would get into Halifax around 11:00 a.m. and felt bad about arriving partway during Christmas Day. However it gave me a chance to enjoy a fun dinner with the extended in-laws at Happy Family [Yelp], a great and underrated find – I wouldn’t mind more of the exact same steamed fish and pan-fried chicken on sticky rice but I digress. NPY and I sat with at the “Adult Table” for once and, frankly, I think it was a bit more fun. The “Kids” are kind of diverging and interests don’t really match up as much. The older crew have mellowed and realize what we all have in common and sometimes left me and NPY alone, too.

It was weird to work on Christmas Eve because the next day being Christmas feels surreal to me. And to be in a different city the next day feels even more odd. I learned that travel on Christmas Eve-into-Christmas Day was really chill. At midnight PST, the Air Canada captain wished us a merry Christmas and with our complimentary beverage, we were each given a red Lindor chocolate (which I stored in my coat pocket and it melted and leaked out of the paper wrapping!!

On December 31, my mum and I set out for Toronto and took Porter (her first time). The Billy Bishop Airport Tunnel Project couldn’t be completed soon enough and I admired the renderings while we waited ad nauseum for the ferry. I am so pleased with the Chinese limo we call in Toronto that charged us the same rate from the downtown airport all the way up to Richmond Hill as it did two years ago when I last used it and took it from my downtown apartment to Pearson.

So, the actual worst travel date of the year in my recent experience, is that Sunday after New Year’s Day, the last day to get home after the holidays to get back to school/work.

Last year, mum was on a direct Toronto-Halifax flight that got diverted to Montreal and then stranded the passengers for two nights. It was nearly as bad this year.

Lil Sis and I dropped mum off for her 9 a.m. flight at 7:30 (made better time downtown from Richmond Hill than we anticipated) and it was raining heavily and we didn’t think anything of it, like checking if her flight had been delayed. Instead, we skipped off to have breakfast after which we would recuperate and take a nap – that was an early wake-up for the airport run!

I didn’t know the rather extreme 10-province (i.e., all of Canada’s provinces) weather alert was still in effect two days later.

Mum SMS’ed me at 2:15 telling me to let my father (who had already been at airport in Halifax for 1.5 hours) that she was on her flight and headed back. We hadn’t thought until then that she had been so delayed and I had napped from noon through receiving the SMS. :P I held off on on letting contacting my father and pulled up the Montreal (since mum’s was a flight connecting in Montreal) and Halifax airport departure and arrival boards and Porter Airlines’ flight status tool. Flights out of Montreal to anywhere and into Halifax from anywhere all day had been cancelled or delayed – what a mess! I also checked the Pearson departures for good measure for my own flight later that night. Mine was still good

Despite mum’s SMS to me, there was no indication for another hour that her flight had actually departed Montreal and thus an updated arrival time in Halifax was posted. When one came up, I called my father on his cell and I felt so bad because it was freezing raining in Halifax and he had been at the airport for 2.5 hours, napping at passenger pick-up (fortunately they weren’t making him leave and it was because the airport was intermittently closed and few flights were coming and going) and driving over to the nearby Tim Hortons to break things up.

Thereby followed the most confusing updates from all three sources where the arrival time kept getting pushed back by 30 minutes such that it seemed that mum’s flight hadn’t really left Montreal. Then it disappeared from Montreal’s boards altogether. Lil Sis, her boyfriend and I went for dinner and wrapped up with just enough time to hustle to the airport through heavy rain and I dropped off my baggage four minutes before the cut-off time. In the car, I checked the Halifax arrivals boards and mum’s arrival was pushed back nearly three hours and was it for real finally?? For the first time in five border-crossings and airport security situations, I used my Nexus to jump the line but our screening line was all bungled up and malfunctioning and the fellow behind me grumbled that it was no faster (read: we’re just as held up with Nexus as the blokes without it).

Then I had a moment to figure it out. Whenever it was the flight did leave Montreal, it got diverted to Gander, NL! There, they were supposed to wait an hour for a regularly scheduled Gander-Halifax flight so I told my father to go home and wait for mum to actually get to the airport and call him. She still had to wait for checked luggage anyhow. The Gander flight was delayed for another hour and it took 14 hours for mum to reach her destination on what was scheduled to be a 3.5 hour connecting flight!

This tweet was pre-mature about the extent of mum’s flight delays, and the notion of Montreal one big skating rink is kind of picturesque.

Meanwhile, my “On Time” status flight wasn’t budging from the gate and we had to go through de-icing and then we sat that the facility for a while. While Toronto and Vancouver weren’t so hard hit by weather, other flights to destinations in the other direction or in between were mucking up the schedule and the captain informed us that within 10 minutes, our designated runway had been changed three times. Just 1.5 hours later, we actually departed and that is the saga of my mum’s and my traveling day!