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

large_article_im211_EbatesCanada

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?

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!

Kicking off 2015 in Toronto

Another year and another mini vacation in Toronto to kick off the year and cap off a Christmas holiday journey east as far as Halifax. I don’t foresee any trips to Toronto in the coming year (although I did starkly say that last year, didn’t I), so I took an opportunity to savour some sights I won’t see for a while.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu – Willowdale [Yelp]

I wanted to take Mum to Kinton Ramen (of the Guu group) which has expanded around Toronto and has a new location in North York’s Koreatown area. The Urbanspoon reviews were not promising and, honestly, I wasn’t keen after two flights to get to Toronto to wait in line in the cold and pay twice as much for ramen as I would for Korean food given price and quantity.

So we ended up at our old stand-by Korean and got one bibimbap in a hot stone bowl and soybean tofu soup. I practically OD’ed on tofu with that meal because I had blocks of it the night before for dinner!

Lucullus Bakery – Richmond Hill [Yelp]

After Korean lunch, Mum really wanted something to wash the food down and to shop for bakery items even though she’s in Toronto for a few more days yet. We could accomplish that by visiting Lucullus which carries her favourite egg tarts and strong milk tea. We also shared a slice of creme brulee cheesecake which was rapidly being sold by the slice. Compared to a western recipe, this Asian cheesecake recipe has egg as well and it’s less sugary and creamy and a little more jelly. Mum bought 11 egg tarts and what we don’t snack on, she’ll bring back to Halifax!

Red Lobster – Thornhill

After Mum asked about Red Lobster, it kind of got stuck on my mind. There’s one in Thornhill. There are several locaitons in Ontario, as it turns out (and none in BC so we have to go to Lynnwood to feed our craving). Just by posting a picture of the biscuits to a friends Whats App chat, one of my friends knew where we were. It was only a 30 minute wait at 8:30 on New Year’s Eve to get in.

We ordered their currently special: fire-grilled salmon, lobster and shrimp and – in order to try it – a rock lobster tail. Our server had warned us it wasn’t as sweet and chewier. Indeed. The rock lobster tail was a larger portion but not overly chewy and it tasted … like freezer-burned Maritime lobster – hah! It wasn’t horrid but we understood why the rock lobster was served with melted butter. I think it was a good spot for a relatively more special New Year’s Eve dinner.

On New Year’s Day, we did have somewhere we could go (Chinese shopping malls) but after a breakfast of Chinese pastries and fruit, I took us on a drive. We head to the water as I searched for Humber Bay Arch Bridge first by going to Humber Bay Park West then realizing it is closer to Humber Bay Park East. I tried to imagine it on a clear day or in the evening and lit up.

I also took us to the Scarborough Bluffs, first Scarborough Bluffs Park then viewing it from below from Bluffer’s Park. Again, I had to imagine a brilliantly sunny day that lights up the cliffs and the water is a tropical blue like I’ve seen in photographs. Also, if it wasn’t cold and windy, we could walk along the beach to get a wider angle of the set of bluffs.

Colourful Yunnan Cuisine [Yelp]

Good thing I knew where to have lunch and the Bluffs weren’t that far south of Markham. I read about Colourful Yunnan and wanted to show Mum Cross Bridge noodle. She hadn’t heard much about Yunnan before and was kind of dismissive of the “outside provinces” that are pushing their cuisine to the forefront dominated by Cantonese food.

We ordered the Cross Bridge noodles, of course and Mum was perplexed to see it was to be prepared in front of us and thin slices of raw pork would get cooked in the broth. The taste of it wasn’t overly spectacular and I thought the rice noodles were a touch too soft for my liking. Because Mum enjoys it so, we ordered a grilled eggplant that was weighed with with garlic and was so tart and had a slow spicy burn. She hated it! We also ordered dumplings and finishing all 15 of them did contribute to feeling satiated until the late evening! The corn pancake that Mum ordered was a highlight – slightly sweet and really satisfying.

One’s Better Living – Market Village

Every time I go to Market Village, some kind of fiasco happens when trying to park, as if it’s not traumatic enough trying to find a spot. Twice, there were near fights over parking spots. This time, because where were so many cars queued and waiting, I took a turn too tightly and drove over some sidewalk!

One’s Better Living, however, is my happy place and I picked up another stick umbrella and a cute set of rice bowls.

Mr. Congee – Richmond Hill

We weren’t hungry on account of eating lunch at 3:00 p.m. and it was already 9:30 but some dishes are guaranteed to start to crack open my appetite. Like congee which Mum ordered with fish roe and fresh oyster. Only after the meal, Mum told me that restaurants add cornstarch to congee so it doesn’t separate. I ordered the small dish of vegetables which was still too much. Mum told me after dinner that a restaurant trick to make vegetables so green is to rinse them with lye water … gross! I thought it was strange to order rice rolls for dinner but Mum insisted. The rice roll wrapper was sturdy but not awful. We waited for a bit for the pot rice with free-range chicken and mushrooms. I didn’t think I could have more than one bowl but I did. I was pleasantly surprised that not only was there free dessert soup, but it wasn’t red bean! I dug in but my appetite for it waned quickly and I only ate the taro bits. Mum told me and I put down my spoon that the dessert soup was so thick because of cornstarch added and not melted taro. All of these restaurant tricks I learned during this meal!

Mustafa Pizza [Yelp]

When looking up in her area for dinner spots, I only turned up high end restaurants I wasn’t really up for but good thing Carole had heard about Mustafa Pizza – a Turkish pizza spot. We read the Yelp reviews with a wary eye and it seemed most of the comments were about service and ambience and we aren’t picky about either. It’s a bit further west of Carole’s abode but not a pain to get to at all.

Diners described the establishment as being like a cave and I pictured La Cave in Halifax (not even sure La Cave hasn’t changed since the days of yore) with low cave ceilings and intimate small sections. Not so. The place is bright with high cave ceilings and oddly located in a small strip. The long bench tables were shaped to emulate slabs cut from trees and I wondered if they concocted the decor themselves or simply inherited it.

We were immediately served with a mixed green salad with light vinaigrette and feta cheese. There was no choice for the likes of me but to order the assorted pizza where each of the six slices was a different one of their most popular flavours – I also ordered mine spicy hence the red pepper flakes. I started from the left and worked my way to the right and generally liked the ones I ate first (lamb and cheese and chicken slices) and started to get full. I skipped the parsley and cheese slice altogether because it was too much cheese and the parsley hardly attenuated anything. It was good but a little too much of the same thing and I did go in hungry! A tip would be to save some of the salad to break things up if one orders an entire pide (pizza) for dinner.

My Wonderful Kitchen [Yelp]

I feel like I’m start to limp along now with going to good places and being satisfied with my meals. On my fourth day in Toronto, I skipped lunch and dinner was just some place nearby. It turned out to be another congee place but you wouldn’t know it from the name. We took a great deal of time to order and I felt like my suggestions were being nixed so we got stuff I might not have normally and so I wasn’t so satisfied.

To start, we had the eel fried rice which was not fashioned into a tall pyramid as the menu photograph suggested and there were bonito flakes that waved in the breeze that freaked out my sister and my mother. I spied the chopped pieces of cilantro in the rice but it didn’t affect the taste too much. The eel pieces were lightly fried and there was a slightly sweet sauce. The congee arrived in a casserole and it was my “usual” of fish and pork liver but I thought the fish, whatever it was, wasn’t so tasty. They are at liberty to use any fish they please, I guess. Then the casserole arrived – we had gone for chicken and chestnut but the chicken was lightly fried and the chestnuts were not of great quality. If it had been a dinner of my favourite dishes, my satisfaction with the dinner might be complete different.

Maha’s Fine Egyptian Cuisine [Yelp]

We dropped mum of at Billy Bishop for her 9 a.m. flight and were consequently outside Maha’s before they opened for the day at 8 a.m. I was wavering about going, not feeling really hungry but I’m glad we did check it out. I had, like many, read the favourable BlogTO review and found the place bright and cheerful and, at opening, with our pick of tables.

We each ordered the cardamom honey latte which was delicious and naturally sweet. It felt a little early to order a grilled cheese sandwich but I did anyhow – it had three cheeses (Gouda, Havarti and Swiss) and date and served with lentil soup that was a nice accompaniment for dipping. Lil Sis ordered the Cairo Classic which I passed on on account of the beans. It was tremendously filling and I got a bite of the falafel and enjoyed that.

Four Seasons Noodle Soup and Shabu-Shabu [Yelp]

After all we indulged in for five days in Toronto and ahead of a five-hour flight, I just wanted noodle soup and why not try somewhere other than the old standby Deer Garden (which is so very good). My search for “noodle soup” in Richmond Hill yielded two results: Jim Chai which is so casual (and good, it seems) and Four Seasons. I just didn’t really think of how far north Four Seasons was relative to where we started from, ooops.

The restaurant is currently in transition, it appears. The plaza’s sign states the restaurant is Four Seasons but the sign on the restaurant and the menus still say Shi Ki Sushi. The main menu is entirely Japanese food while there is a one-page insert that is just Korean food. This place needs to ramp up.

With us not being shy to push the button for service, it was pretty prompt and I got a properly soothing if a bit bland noodle soup of rice noodles and big beef and vegetable dumplings. The company, Lil Sis and her boyfriend, were far better and the main point of the excursion.

2014: The Year in Review

On January 31, 2014, the Year of the Wooden (Green) Horse began and it will end on February 19, 2015. It marked the beginning of my third 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle which means … dum-dum-dum … I turned 36 sometime during 2014. I prefer to believe that one’s zodiac year is a good one (the other prevailing belief is that it will be the opposite). I need something to look forward to, afterall!

January
Even though the month of January was not yet Year of the Horse, it was planned to ensure a great month anyhow. As usual, I kicked off the new year in Toronto for a few days. We really made the most of the two days of eating. ;-) And then I arranged a second trip to frozen Ontario in January – isn’t that so silly? – which included two first-time girls trips with some quality time in Toronto in between. With Carole, we spent a weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake and attended the ice wine festival. A weekend later, I was in Ottawa with Vinnie and Mona and we just hung out and went to Winterlude events.

February
I think I was just playing catch-up in the month of February.

March
I had a cost accounting final exam in the middle of march so I was studying up a storm. Thankfully, NPY was also on the hook for an exam later in March and I had a study buddy for once. A nice treat after the exam was a short getaway to Whistler – my first overnighter there since 2007. It was a fun weekend with co-workers eating, clubbing, ziplining and strangely not skiing. I wanted to rectify that on the 2015 ski trip. The theme song for the weekend was Pitbull f. Ke$ha’s “Timber”.

April
I was lying low again in April and enjoyed the early spring in Vancouver. I was also busy creating my “base” of dancing and running – it helps that I didn’t want to waste a single class of my iDance 10-class pass and I bought too many 20-class cards from Harbour Dance! I tried to stay social and cousin Alan advised me it’s a Vancouver phenomenon where I feel like relationships are so difficult to maintain and I end up soliciting everyone to meet up. It has been really nice that he lives a couple blocks from me (consolation when the rest of my family is so far). There was a particularly epic week in which on a Saturday, NPY and I had dinner at my co-workers and we got to know each other on that level playing CAH, I dropped by Alan’s on the following Tuesday and we polished off a bottle over good conversation, and the next day, I had a really great time at a work event at PiDGiN!

May
Come May, it’s the last chance for a trip before summer high season and I wanted an annual trip, darnit, but resigned it would be smaller this year. Our first options included Maui and Halifax/New York. Both were shockingly expensive. NPY and I hadn’t been to California together before so we flew into San Francisco and out of LA. Also, we became home owners! It only took about three years of searching and I loathe the idea of someday looking for a house when we had such difficulty with a never-lived-in new condo!! Finally, a place I can call my own home and put into effect all of those decorating ideas.

June
I’d usually be grounded in the summer but SIL planned a stagette trip to Vegas and I was there! It was just really two days in Vegas but epic enough. The theme song for the trip would be Martin Garrix’s “Animals”. Just a couple of days after returning from Vegas, Lil Sis and her boyfriend visited Vancouver and we had a super afternoon and evening of drinking and connecting him with the Vancouver family.

July
In July, there were two family weddings: one over-the-top gala event that was less wedding as the evening went on and more society event and one comparatively intimate and really fun one for the SIL. I would say that I primped for both of those weddings more than I did for my own, haha. Our annual trip to the Okanagan where eight of us went this year straddled July and August.

August
We settled back into life for a bit in August. A new course started and I got a chance to look towards the future both near and far. It has been a good year at work and I was reminded again of something I did know before: how loving your job has to do with having friends in the workplace.

September
In September, the Beat the Blerch marathon Alan and I had been preparing for all summer finally arrived. Spending a weekend eating with my chef cousin and returning the favour by taking him around Seattle was a delightful and different getaway.

October
With just a couple hours of effort, I achieved a real milestone in my life – I learned how to ride a bike! Of all things in 2014, this is one lasting change. We usually go somewhere in October but already “used up” the trip in May. I could still book a mid-month trip home to visit family in Halifax… and tack on a side trip to St. John’s and St. Pierre et Miquelon – St. John’s was awesome in no small part with a great start at Mallard Cottage and an epic night out on George Street – I have never hit up six bars in one evening or had such great company, and it’s not likely to happen again. The theme song of that evening would be Lorde’s “Team”. St. Pierre was a really nice retreat for me and, oh, the food was so good. I capped off the month with my only other run of the year, a 10K with friends.

November
Due to the passing of my grandmother, I made an unscheduled trip to Toronto in the middle of the month to attend the funeral. It was also a unique and possibly last opportunity to see all of her children (six aunts and uncle and my mother) together. At the end of the month, we went on a Black Friday shopping trip to the Seattle area with siblings-in-law and another couple.

December
December is always a month of preparing for Christmas and this year was no different. I left for Halifax later than ever before, on Christmas Eve, using the free trip I won from work in a random draw. I used it, practically, on a Christmas high season trip back to Halifax with a side trip to Toronto after the new year.

The rest of Year of the Horse (ends February 19, 2015) looks rosy, too. We learned in November that NPY won a trip from his work (based on merit) and we will spend a week in Maui in January. Just saying.

My “away days” in 2014 weren’t so shabby compared to 2013 and I’m afraid it might be a high point for a while. I was away for a total of 66 days in the following pattern by month: 12, 2, 3, 0, 9, 4, 1, 4, 3, 10, 10, 8. Yes, I keep count.

I’ve made some allusions above because I’m not entirely mature enough to discuss it straight on. I would characterize my approach to the year with an underlying feeling and knowledge that “this is the last time I will be able to do this”: travel alone, travel alone (internationally), go on the work ski trip and party with people as young as new grads, attend a Halloween party without a care in the world. Even my days where I can go nuts going to dance and fitness classes after work are numbered. It’s just the way life is.

Year in review 2014: Books

It might say something but I don’t entirely recall spending this year reading but when I look back upon this list – which I start in, oh, July – I managed to sneak it in. I suppose next year, I’ll be starting this list in January. I’ve been reading a lot during my December holiday in some effort to bolster these numbers but will only end up finishing them early next year.

Total “read”: 20
– Percentage that were audiobooks: 20%
– Percentage that were “Asian-American”: 50%
– Percentage non-fiction: 30%
– Percentage adapted to screenplay: 30%

Fiction

  • Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes – First Mum on the Run and now Little Earthquakes?! Is this a sign of the times and getting old, reading a novel centered on parenting. This was so highly recommended by the bff.
  • Pascal Girard’s Reunion – I visited a bookshop on West Broadway just west of Granville and learned it is an all-arts bookstore. The volumes of most interest to me were the graphic novels and Pascal Girard’s Reunion has a juicy cover with an interesting story – Pascal, the main character, prepares to go to his 10-year school reunion. It wasn’t exactly my kind of humour and I thought it was so neurotic it wasn’t funny.
  • Richard C. Morais’ The Hundred-Foot Journey – I can’t remember where I saw this but with the loud praise from Anthony Bourdain as “easily the best novel ever set in the world of cooking”, I was intrigued and it pitted Indian cuisine against French in French territory. Later, I would find out that an Oprah Winfrey-Steven Spielberg movie starring Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal was being released in the summer and although I was not watching the movie on opening weekend, it set a deadline for me to finish the book!
  • Terry Fallis’ No Relation – I found out in August that Fallis’ fourth novel was published in May and listened to all 17 chapters (available from his website) during 17 walks to/from work and I really looked forward to those 17 walks!
  • Gayle Forman’s If I Stay – I heard about this novel when there was a chance to win tickets to the screening; that it’s a young adult (nevermind a romance) novel puts it in the category of “would listen to the audiobook but not read it” – it was really charming and when I searched for the Amazon link, I see that there is a sequel and I read the synopsis and still want to listen to it…?
  • Lois Lowry’s The Giver – only when I started seeing the movie trailers and thought it was yet another teen dystopia novel did I learn about this classic children’s sci-fi novel – the text, which I listened to as an audiobook, is juvenile for my liking but now I’m curious about the cinema adaptation that should have an appeal across ages.
  • Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project – I had heard of this novel in passing but when it appeared on Lil Sis’ wishlist for Christmas, I took a closer look at it and the other choices – I decided to purchase a novel that was newer and more substantial than what was essentially chick lit – it’s “chick lit” written by a man and the narrator is male with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome (tendencies), the source of much of the humour and misunderstanding – it was a quick and fun read for the holidays
  • George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones – I’m all caught up with the television series and then started this fall listening to the audiobook and the details are just amazing – generally enjoyed all of it, except the Bran chapters, haha. I’m not inclined to (immediately) continue listening to the books. Interesting but requires a lot of attention or else it doesn’t feel worth it. Ask me again next summer when there’s no new podcasts to listen to!

Non-Asian American non-fiction

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story - this is one massive memoir at 656 pages, fitting for how much there is to tell and the size of the author. It was a fascinating read throughout, even the politics.
  • Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael – lesson learned while reading his work both from the narrative and things going on around me: don’t be so gullible.

Asian-American (or like) fiction & non-fiction

  • Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being – there was an awesome point when Ruth was reading the diary and sleuthing, fact checking and it felt so eerie and urgent. I got annoyed for a few pages when it got a bit supernatural but how surreal the result was nice and memorable.
  • John Jung’s Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurantsmy review
  • Short story collection My Tiger Mom & Me – After we all read Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother memoir in 2011/2012, we were all inspired. I saw a short story contest inviting submissions of your own experience and I knew I had a story. But I didn’t know how to conclude it (nicely) and panicked to think of my name being in print and my mother finding out I wrote about her so I refrained. I showed Angela Tung who made a submission and won! Two years later, I finally read this thin volume and – other than Angela’s – I think I could have written one more compelling story than some that I read. :P
  • Ian Hamilton’s The Dragon Head of Hong Kong – No sooner did I find out Hamilton had recently published a prequel to the Ava Lee series and I was getting it. It’s so satisfying to see her first case with Uncle and the missteps she had because she was already so cool by the first novel. It is a novella in length and I got through it so quickly.
  • Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl – a restaurant kid-come-disillusioned grad student with a life-long obsession with a different era: did someone read my diary? This novel successfully transported me elsewhere. [my review]
  • Elaine Lui’s Listen to the Squawking Chicken – the things I’ll read due to my AA obsession even by people I don’t particularly admire… all to find how much we might have in common, and change my mind about them [my review]
  • Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – I heard about this memoir referenced in some running article and especially since I had read 1Q84, I was down for reading one more Murakami and my cousin also wants to read it but doesn’t have the time – refreshing perspective where he’s competitive with himself but not snobbish about running – he’s so matter-of-fact, there is light humour; I am convinced not to cycle long distances and LOL’ed when he compared the awkward transition from swimming to cycling in a triathlon as going from being a salamander to ostrich.
  • Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – I’m really turn off my brain at this point in the summer. I love the title and the story is adorable and touching. Each of the sisters was characterize so well, I loved it. A really quick read of the coming of age of a character I could empathize with without the embarrassing and awkward comedy that chick lit often has.
  • Lisa See’s China Dolls – I hear about it (it was published in June) and I read it; it’s a cycle that I shake my head over every time. Why do I keep reading this chick lit? I did find myself being drawn a bit into the three characters’ lives so there’s that.
  • Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You – slow to start but then it sucked me in as a compelling reason why Lydia would have decided to commit suicide became revealed – the family is so frustratingly broken.