Our Veggie Garden

Wow.. it seems like everytime we go on vacation, I go into relapse... and stop updating my blog.  Whoops.  This year was worse than the last.  I promise I will post stories of our trip soon.  For now..

We've been busy with our garden over the summer.  It's been decent this year, but we did have issues with earwigs, flea beetles, and pepper maggot flies.  Oh, and then we discovered that tomatoes could get blossom end rot, and that the squirrels loved to steal our tomatoes and eggplants!  This year, we've planted some jalapeno peppers, eggplants, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and parsley.  The chives came back stronger than ever this year and we replanted the habanero from last year.  We couldn't believe that habanero plant lived considering we dug him out of the garden really late and all it had left was the main twig of a trunk.  By now, I'm hoping the weather stays warm for longer as we've still got quite a few fruits maturing in the garden!

Our New Neighbour

A new neighbour moved in a couple weeks ago.  We discovered her nest out back on our deck while we were barbecuing with some friends.  We decided to peek in and found that she was expecting two little ones!  Judging from the blueness of her eggs, we knew she must be a robin.  And yes, they are real eggs, not made by Cadbury, and we didn't doctor the picture in any way.  This was taken with an iPhone.

A week later, I decided to take a peek again to see how they're coming along.  Lo and behold, there are now four!  My friends started joking that we should throw some Cadbury eggs in there and see if Ms Robin would notice.

And below is what I found last week.  I'll need to check in on them again to see if they all hatched. :)  I've been hoping to get a picture of Ms Robin on her nest, but she gets spooked pretty easily; flies to the fence, or tree and chirps at me.  Hopefully, she'll get used to us being around and won't attack me or anything. :P


Ever since reading an article on butter in the Globe and Mail and learning more about the butter industry, Kel and I were intrigued.  We've always known that almost everything in our country is regulated, but we didn't realize by how much.  From this article we learnt that the butter we see at the grocery store all have to contain a minimum fat content of 80% and "under Canada’s supply-managed dairy monopoly system you have to use milk from the provincial pool".  Even the packaging is limited to printed foil.  This explains why butter looks and tastes relatively the same regardless of brand.  The article also mentioned that European butter tends to contain ~84% fat content and isn't readily available to us since only a small amount can be imported without getting hit with a 289.5% duty.  Stirling Creamery, a local dairy recognized this gap and has started producing a European-Style barrel churned butter with a whopping 84% fat content.  You can read more about it here.

Hearing this, I couldn't help but venture out to St. Lawrence market as it was named as a source of obtaining this European goodness.  I spotted a side fridge of a dairy shop who carried the new Stirling butter and proceeded to chat up the owner.  Jackpot!  He informed me that he also carried a butter from Italy and one from France, and went into the back to get them.  I ended up walking out with the Stirling butter as well as the Beppino Occelli butter from Italy.  As expected, the Stirling butter costed about 4 times more than our regular butter, and the Beppino Occelli was 8 times more.  I immediately messaged Kel about my loot and we started devising a plan as to what to test them on.

Here is a close up of our contenders.

We soon decided to test them against our regular butter on three levels: simply as is; in cooking; and in baking.

For the first as is test, we had it with toasted French bread.  The Stirling and Beppino Occelli butters were recognizably more creamy than the Gay Lea.  However, the Beppino Occelli left an after taste we've never experienced with butter.  It actually reminded me of brie cheese.  It was quite the noms.

For the cooking test, we used them to sauté mixed mushrooms.  Again, the two contenders were noticeably richer, and once again the Beppino Occelli left a unique taste.  It wasn't so much like brie this time, but something different.  We couldn't quite put a finger on what it was.

For the last test, I brought the left over butters with me to my friend Moj's house to share in the loot.  We proceeded to make butter cookies out of them.  The Stirling butter came out the winner in this round.  It filled the apartment with a buttery goodness you'd only dream about and the cookies were equally yummy.  The Beppino Occelli was a bit disappointing.  Moj described the smell during baking as "bad cheese" and the windows had to be opened.  The cookies themselves didn't fare well either.  They didn't taste like butter cookies at all; it was all rather strange.

Our conclusion was that the Beppino Occelli butter was best enjoyed with toast, while the Stirling was a lot more versatile.  Maybe next time, I'll go get the butter from France to see how it fares.

Chefs' House - Lindt Chocolate Lovers' Feast

 Our friend Flora found this event at the Chefs' House featuring an inventive four course dinner with wine pairing and hor d'oeurves, with Lindt chocolate as the key ingredient to every dish.  The night would showcase the talent from the Chef School of George Brown and the Master Chefs would discuss the construction of the menu and dishes.  It was a one night only event and we were sold.  The menu would only be revealed the night of, and we secured our seats as soon as the event was open for reservations.

Doors open at 6:30pm and after getting to our table, we were promptly greeted with such goodies as chocolate dipped bacon, and a Parmesan tart with grape chutney drizzled with chocolate.  The night was getting off to a great start!

While waiting for the evening to officially start, we went over the menu with our sparkling wine in hand, and chomped on some bread at our table, which included a dark chocolate and sour cherry loaf, a red fife pain au levain, as well as some lavash.  Norm thought he tasted cumin in the pain au levain, but no one else did.

After some introductions and speeches by the chefs, our first course arrived: the braised beef cheek and dark chocolate ganache ravioli in brown sage butter.  I have to agree with Moj on this one, it's definitely the yummiest ravioli I've ever had.  For one, the chefs didn't feel the need to include ricotta or mascarpone or any other cheese in the filling, which was quite refreshing; and they didn't cheat by just adding a hint of chocolate; it really was a full on chocolate ganache with the beef cheek.  The taste of chocolate was evident, but not overpowering.  This dish worked well all around, like the braised beef cheek and chocolate ganache were BFFs.

Our second course was the cocoa infused wild mushroom consommé with a pan-seared scallop.  This was an interesting dish, but in my opinion, less impressive than the first.  As Norm has duly noted, the scallop was cooked perfectly, but the flavours didn't do much for me.  As I got more into the dish, I found the consommé a bit saltier than preferred.

Our third course was the oven roasted chicken breast, with a blood sausage and brioche pudding, white chocolate parsnip purée, in a bitter chocolate and chipotle sauce.  The many different aspects to this dish definitely made it a favourite at our table.  The chicken was perfectly roasted and not too dry; the blood sausage and brioche pudding had an interesting texture and went well with the parsnip purée; and the bitter chocolate and chipotle sauce wasn't bitter at all.  It was hard to decide where to start, and what combination to try next.  Everything seemed to blend so well together.

Our signal that dessert was on its way: fresh bread sticks dipped in Lindt chocolate.

And last but not least, our dessert.  They weren't kidding on the menu about there being "chocolate of various forms and textures!  There was chocolate foam layered on top of a small piece of chocolate brownie/cake, with chocolate crumble all around, whilst sitting on top of a decadently smooth chocolate mousse with bits of liquefied cherry and hazelnut.  Flora thought it was a bit sweet for her liking, so I finished hers, too. :)

At the end of the meal, our server presented us with a plate of Lindor milk chocolate truffles, as well as a box of chocolates each as a takeaway gift.  With such great food and company, we all had a splendid time.  In fact, Flora's proposed to make these a monthly outing.  I wonder what's next on the agenda? :)

Our Trip to XinJiang: Part 14 of 14

Day 18:
We woke up that morning, had breakfast in Hami and were on our way to Turpan.  Our goal was to travel ~427 km to Tuyugou Valley to visit the Mazar Village otherwise known as Tuyuq (吐峪溝) at the edge of Turpan, then to the Ancient City of Gaochang (高昌故城), before ending the night in Turpan (吐鲁番).

What's interesting about the Tuyugou Valley is that it sat within the Turpan Depression that is known to be the second or third lowest point on Earth and houses many historic sites easily going back 3000 years.  The Mazar Village is one of these historical sites. It is said that there is a holy cave at the Mazar Village that is documented in the Koran.  

Legend has it that two missionaries entered XinJiang in hopes of spreading the Islamic faith.  However, they were soon hunted by the miliary.  The two missionaries came upon a pair of shepherds and their dog.  After some conversation with the missionaries, the shepherds decided to help them escape.  After several days, maybe even weeks, they were running short on supplies and the shepherds wanted their dog to leave and run to freedom.  However, the loyal dog would not stop following.  The shepherds got desperate and crippled the dog to leave him behind, but still he would follow.  In the end, they hid in a cave with the dog as their guardian; and that was how the holy cave came to be.

The view from up top; we had to climb a steep sandy hill at the edge of the village to get to this photographic point.  The descent was rather interesting as the dry sand made it ridiculously slippery even though I was in my sneakers.  Annie's descent was most memorable as she was in her sandals, screaming, giggling, and sliding.

Kel crept out to the edge for his photos; I  wouldn't dare as I could foresee myself slipping and rolling down every which way.

The other side of the village where the pond is; you can see the Buddha Grottoes in the mountains.  However, they are no longer open to the public due to damage done over the years.  Another memorable thing about the village is that there's a murky creek that runs through it to this pond; like the water was actually brown.  And the villagers actually use this as their drinking water.  Our guide told us that the locals would have to let the water sit in their bucket overnight for the sediments to settle before using it.

Did I mention the village is saturated with mulberry trees?  We've never had mulberries before; I for one have only read about them in books.  Our guide told us to try them and at first we were skeptical, but once we had our first, there was no stopping us!  (Or me and Annie that is..)  The guide couldn't help but laugh as we ate our way through the village.

We saw a man butcher a goat in his front yard; and by butcher I mean literally empty the goat's intestines as his pet cat watched.  On the right is the house the locals has preserved as it is believed the missionaries, shepherds and the dog has stayed there before.

Next, we headed to the Ancient City of Gaochang (高昌故城).  This ancient city dates back to 100 BC and used to be an important trading post along the Silk Road.  The city was said to have been burnt down in the 14th century.

We had to pay admission to get a mule driven wagon to take us in.  There wasn't a whole lot to see, as it was no more spectacular than any of the other ancient ruins we've seen on this trip.  If anything, this one was even less maintained.  The negative experience we had with this particular site was that the locals there tried to scam us and make us pay double.  When we got to the main part, they informed us that what we previously paid was a one way trip and that we needed to pay again to get driven back out.  Annie argued with them for a bit and then we just ignored them and walked into the site.  They were still there waiting for us afterwards to drive us back out, but nonetheless it left a bad taste in our mouth.

We returned to Turpan that night for our last dinner in Xinjiang.  We celebrated our trip with good food, cold beers, in good company.

Day 19:
We woke up in Turpan and had breakfast before driving back to Urumqi, where we were to depart XinJiang in the afternoon.  Throughout the drive, we were recalling all that we've seen and experienced in the last three weeks, saying farewell to the camels as we passed by; the mountain; the goats.

After having lunch in Urumqi, Siubo said we still had a little time before our flight and asked if there was anything we wanted to do.  For some reason, Starbucks came to mind.  There was supposedly one in Urumqi, or so Siubo has heard of.  We had tried looking for the location of it online during our trip, as a friend had asked if we can bring back one of their mugs from the World collection, but had no luck.  Nonetheless, we figured if there was one, it'd be pretty cool to bring one back for ourselves that said "Urumqi" or even "XinJiang" on it.  Siubo called around and located a "Starbucks Cafe and Restaurant".  It didn't sound right, but since we had time, we decided to take a detour.  Or rather, Siubo insisted on checking it out.  (Did I mention he was a wonderful driver? :)  Alas, when we got there, it turned out to be a restaurant that used the Starbucks name and since Starbucks never had a location in XinJiang, it wasn't an issue.  And that was our last adventure before Siubo dropped us off at the airport.

Our 19 day road trip through Xinjiang (and a part of Gansu) covered an approximate distance of 6973 km.  That's more than 1000 km above the distance needed to travel across Canada from Victoria, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia!  Below, I've put together a map of the route we took during our trip and yes, it was quite an adventure!  So much so, that we've decided to go back next year (which is really this year, since I started this post in October and it's now regrettably January)!  Cannot wait for part 2!

A-Urumqi; B-Yuli; C-Korla; D-Kuqa; E-Kezi'erxiang; F-Aksu; G-Kashgar; H-Taxkorgan; I-Khūnjerāb Pass; J-Kashgar;
K-Hotan; L-Minfeng; M-Korla; N-Turpan; O-Dunhuang; P-Jiayuguan; Q-Hami; R-Balikun; S-Turpan; T-Urumqi

Resolutions, resolutions

Happy 2012!

And with the new year of course, comes resolutions.  I didn't used to understand the concept when I was younger, but it seems like it adds more weight with age;  and usually, the problem is with the carry through.  Somewhere down the road, I forget, or I make enough excuses that it gets dropped.  One thing I've consistently read about, is if you shared your resolutions/goals with other people then you're more likely to carry through with them since you're more accountable.  SO.. here goes..

This year, I vouch to:

  • sleep earlier (This one is a carry down since... 2010?)
  • drink more water (another carry down.. for those who knows me, knows I can drink close to nothing a day)
  • cook and eat more at home
  • (and therefore) eat less crap
  • read more
  • declutter (Kel should be happy with this one..)

This month, I aim to go through my clothes and clear out stuff I keep for the sake of keeping. (Yes, I tend to have issues parting with things.)  And put away my summer shoes and take out my winters since the cold weather finally hit.  Here's a little something I found with great tips on decluttering:

via www.mimiandmegblog.com

Our Gallery Wall

It's finally up!  The idea's been there for a while, but the process has been long.  It's really not that hard to do, but the process of selecting pictures and getting cheap frames takes time.  In fact, we've had the pictures framed for over a month now, but when Kel realized on which wall and at which height I wanted them, he said "how 'bout later".  Well, later's finally here!  This wall will be our ongoing project, adding pictures as time goes on.