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.

Dinner at Sushi Kaji

Sushi Kaji has got to be my favourite Japanese restaurant in Toronto.  They only do tasting menus and so, is not your everyday type of sushi bar.  At the same time, their prices aren't so far out of reach that you'd only go once in your lifetime.  They used to have tasting menus at three price points, but have since gotten rid of their $80 menu. We decided to go with their $120 menu this time, since it is my birthday and all.

The menu doesn't say a whole lot about what we'd get, nor does it indicate the amount, but having been here before, we knew it'd be well worth our money.

We reserved seating at the bar as that is where we'd get the most action; watching the chefs at work was quite impressive.  They had just renovated the restaurant last month, increasing the space behind the bar by decreasing the tables available in the restaurant.  This may seem counter intuitive for some, but it made a lot of sense for us as what they're really doing is expanding the stage for the chefs to perform on.


Our first dish (partially listed as the second item on the menu), the persimmon rolled with egg crepe was found inside the leaf bundle, resting on the two pieces of fish cake stuffed with cod roe.  The yellow ball in front is a water chestnut embedded in a white wine jelly, sitting beside a piece of candied lotus root.

Our second dish (actually listed as the first item on the menu), is the daikon radish cake on the left with a bit of kumquat reduction, with the dried barracuda on the right.

Our third dish, which was more like a continuation of the second item on the menu, is the vinegared crab.  The yellow swirl on the left was actually an egg yolk, which complemented nicely with the soy sauce on its right, adding a velvety texture whilst lessening the sodium level.

Our fourth dish: the assorted sashimi plate.  The two orange pieces on the left resembling salmon is actually fresh trout, which was quite refreshing.  The octopus was a nice touch, as it was not chewy at all, contrary to the usual experience.  And are you starting to notice the crab theme?

Next up, the butternut squash cake stuffed with chicken.  The pool its sitting in was actually a consomm√©, just thick enough yet not too overpowering.  Erica decided after her meal that this was her most memorable dish.

The assorted tempura was up next.  What we've always been interested in, is how these are fried, yet served dry.  We watched them do it this time, and it looks so simple.  Must try this at home. :)

Snow crab grilled in cellophane.  They weren't kidding about the cellophane.

Inside, we found mushroom and chicken on a bed of onions with the reminisce of egg.  This was done quite nicely as the egg absorbed all the flavours of the crab and neither the chicken, mushroom or onions took away from that.  Kel loved how this was presented and the skill involved for everything to be cooked to perfection.  And of course, I loved how all the crab legs seen thus far has been pre-cracked for our dining pleasure.  However, Erica thought it was a little oily for her liking.

This next dish wasn't written on the menu and was by far my favourite dish of the night.  Here we have a bit of crab "innards" (for lack of a better word) on hand shredded crab meat on rice.  The portioning was perfect; not too much as to over indulge, but just enough to taste the sweetness of the crab.

Our next course, the littleneck clam miso soup.  We thought the miso in the soup was stronger than we were used to.

And this brings us to the beginning of our assorted sushi platter.  The great thing about sitting at the bar is, we'd get the pieces as they're made and won't have to wait a minute longer.

Barbecued eel was the first sushi we got.  Their special sauce was unique, driven by a citrus note of kumquat; not too sweet like the store bought type.

Next up: maguro.

And what do we have here?  Wild trout covered with roe.  I think one of the dramatic highlights about sitting at the bar is the anticipation as we watched them pour roe on top of our sushi.  We're not usually huge on roe, but these were the good ones.  We could taste the freshness of the fish and none of the salt.  One of the chefs cooking by us saw us trying to pick up the leftover roe with chopsticks and decided to lend us a hand by dropping off a small spoon on our plate. :P

Sea bream sushi wrapped in mint leaves.  I'm personally not big on mint, but this was actually pretty good.

Fresh crab sushi.  And yes, that would be Chef Kaji.  He purposely knocked over a piece because he knew we were taking pictures.  Chef Kaji is quite the joker posing for our photo.

Scallop sushi.  Its interesting how I dislike cooked scallops, but fresh raw scallop is quite the yum in my book.

Chef Kaji made us cucumber hand rolls to help clean our palates.  Note that Kel's on the right is much larger than mine.

The finale: uni sushi, fried prawn, and toro.  Need I say more?

And to finish the night, our desserts.  The girls got a red bean paste with mixed fruits on top of jelly, accompanied with a green tea macaron.  Kel got a pear sorbet with his macaron.

The Toronto Underground Market - Nov 2011 Event

I first heard of the Toronto Underground Market (TUM) through a co-worker of mine.  Whilst trying to decide how many tickets to get for the October event over lunch, it sold out!  We regretted not jumping on it sooner and decided we need to regroup for their next event in November.  Over the course of the month, we gathered interest in our respective groups of friends, waiting anxiously for the tickets to go on sale and jumped on them as soon as we were aware.  Alas, the November event proved to be worth the wait as we lined up stall after stall and filled our tummies with yummy goodness.  We were a little wary of the weather as it was held at the Evergreen Brickworks, but the heat lamps and atmosphere proved it quite enjoyable.

Kel and I started out our TUM adventure by tasting the various samosas from Mama Nashi's Indian Gourmet Fare.  They offered three kinds: chicken, beef, and vegetarian.  They were de-lish and served their role well as our first course.

After savouring the samosas, we spotted the line for La Carnita.  They are famous for their fish tacos and the line was already mega long!  We decided at this point to divide and conquer; station Kel at the La Carnita line, where we went and hunted down other good eats and of course bring some back for him as well.

Flora and I ventured out and assessed what the other stalls had to offer and settled in at a line for grilled cheese.  Rather, Flora lined up for grilled cheese while I went and got sandwiches from Fidel Gastro. They offered two types of sandwiches; the "Havana Club", a beer pulled pork with ham, caramelized onions, havarti and chili aioli; and "La Senorita", mozzarella stuffed jalapeno, turkey chilli and radicchio slaw.  Of course, I picked up one of each and shared them with Flora and Kel.  The guys at Fidel Gastro created a fun atmosphere where they cried "OLE!" every chance they got.

It was good timing, too, because by the time I got back to Flora, we were next in line at Comida Del Pueblo for their awesome grilled cheese!  And yes, I say awesome because it was a jalapeno cornbread grilled cheese topped with guacamole and creme fresca!  This was definitely one of the highlights of the night.

After sharing the grilled cheese with Kel, I got us a beer from Hogtown Brewers.  Can't say it was the greatest, a little hoppy for our taste.  At this time, I met up with Flora and Norm again, and we decided to try the eats from Element.  While lining up, Keith came over with some cupcakes from Sullivan & Bleeker.  I couldn't resist and had their mint Aero cupcake.

At Element, Flora and Norm shared the pork and crab meat soup vermicelli, as well as the lobster yaki.  I just got the lobster yaki and brought it back to Kel, which was just as well since he was finally nearing the front of the La Carnita line!  We got two of each of their voltron fish tacos and their Mexican chorizo tacos.  The chorizo tacos delivered quite a kick!  We looked around for Flora to share this yummy goodness, but to no avail.  We ended up eating her share as well. :P

Later in the night, we ventured out to the Chimney courtyard to scope out their wood oven pizzas and found that they offered cedar smoked marshmallows, as well.  However, at a dollar a piece, we weren't quite sure.  At this time, it started raining and we headed back into the major venue.  Before the night was over, I had a hot cider with whiskey from Proof, which was quite yummy by the way, and the duck confit hash from Elle cuisine.  Can't say the duck was all that great as we found the meat quite dry, but all in all, it was a terrific night.

Staging Project

I apologize for the lack of blog posts last month, but October turned out to be quite busy!  I picked up a staging project for a town home the weekend before it was to list through a referral.  He assured me the timeline isn't usually this aggressive, but the client really wanted to list soon and have the open house by the next weekend!

So this is what happened:
  • I went to assess the place with Kel on Saturday morning.
  • Proceeded to acquire the things I had in mind for the project that same day.
  • Went back to the house on Sunday to further discuss with the client what we needed her to do.
  • Went in on Monday with all the things we needed and proceeded to stage her home.
  • The photographer came in Monday afternoon to take pictures of the finished product for the listing.
By Thursday, the house was on the market.  The real estate agent informed me he already had multiple showings that night, as well as on Friday.  The open house that weekend was also a success with more than twenty interested parties attending.  By Tuesday, a bidding war had begun and the place was sold later that night!  I couldn't believe how fast it all unfolded.  Although the agent had told me the week before that this was his plan and the ideal situation, I had doubts on whether it would actually happen.

Below is a glimpse of what the main floor looked like when we first went in to assess the place.  I apologize for the poor picture quality, as my mind was already spinning with ideas and for some reason I thought the agent had took the "before" pictures already.  This was actually taken on my phone and served as my personal reference for the project.

Since the client was still going to be living there while her home was up for sale, we decided to do what we can to minimize the impact the staging would have on her life.  Afterall, you never know how long these things would take.  Below is the main floor after we staged it.  If you take a closer look at the before and after, you'll see that we did a lot of rearranging of what she already had, plus a few accent pieces to bring it all out.

And here, is the bedroom after we rearranged a few things.  Bringing her recliner upstairs not only gave the main floor more room, but shows that her master bedroom is big enough to serve two functions.

We were all quite happy with how much the new layout was able to open up the main floor and the quick sale was a good measurement of that!  

Foodstock: Stop the Mega Quarry

Last month, Kel and I went with a few friends up north to the Foodstock event.  It was the first of its kind with the intention of this event being to raise awareness and money to stop an American company called Highland Companies from turning prime, fertile agricultural land into a limestone quarry spanning 2,300 acres.  It was dubbed as a "pay-what-you-can public food event" and was wildly successful.  A hundred chefs across the nation banded together to serve up local produce, setting up stalls out in an open field and throughout the forest to the public.  Thousands showed up despite the cold and rain in support of the movement.  It was definitely a different experience! We had a good laugh at supporters, both kids and adults, losing their boots in the muddy field, while lining up for the next food stall.  Looking back, I wish I had taken more pictures of all the great food we had, especially since Norm, Kel, and I all managed to forget to bring our own plates and used a lettuce leaf as a substitute.

Supporters at the event, both young and old.

Soup being served out of a giant pumpkin and onto a cabbage leaf to promote sustainability and reducing waste.

More shots of food stands as chefs and volunteers prep for the supporters.

An article on the event at blogTO with additional pictures found here.

Summer Projects: The Front Porch

Kel and I've been wanting to redo the front porch since it was made of patio stones and weeds were poking through.  There was also a colony of ants living under the stones!  We decided that this year was the year to give it a new look.  I've been eyeing stamped concrete porches for a while, and got a contact from an old coworker.  The awesome thing about stamped concrete is that you can pick the pattern AND the colour you want!  We got in contact with Frank, who came and gave us an estimate for our front porch and flowerbed in late July.  We shopped around a bit, and by August, decided to go with him.  He was able to start work just after Labour Day and we were ecstatic.

When we first got the house, the front of our house looked like this:

We knew we had to change the windows since they were still original from when the house was built (circa 1956?) so while we were getting new windows, we got a new front door as well.

Below is the end of Day 1.  Frank came early in the morning, removed the patio stones, and started excavating.  He's put up the curvy border we've asked for on the porch, and the flowerbed, rounded at the end.  By our tree, you can see the new light post that Kel's put up this summer, too.

At the end of the second day, concrete's been poured and the pattern set.  We picked Arizona Flagstone for our pattern.

Close up of the pattern on our porch:

Frank came back to put in the colour the next day , but there wasn't a visible difference from the day before at this point, as there was still a good amount of concrete dust on the porch.  He told us he'd come back the next week to power wash the porch after the concrete's settled and seal.

So here it is, after Frank was completely done: the porch on the left, and the flowerbed on the right.

And here, from when we first bought the house, to what it looks like now: